ACLU Warns Arizona Officials on Law That Punishes Prisoners Whose Names Appear Online

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
June 11, 2002 12:00 am

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PHOENIX, AZ–The American Civil Liberties Union today sent a letter to Arizona prison officials demanding suspension of a state law that bans prisoners from contacting groups or individuals who may post information about them online.

“This ill-conceived law places prisoners in a Catch-22,” said Eleanor Eisenberg, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona. “The only way for prisoners to stop information from being posted on the Internet is to contact the very organizations the prisoners are now banned from contacting.”

The broadly worded legislation bars prisoners from corresponding with a “communication service provider” or “remote computing service” and disciplines prisoners if any person outside prison walls accesses a provider or service website at a prisoner’s request. To date, two prisoner advocacy organizations with websites — the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty and Voices from Inside — have been singled out by the Arizona Department of Corrections. Recent department notices demand that prisoners have their names and case information removed from these websites, or face prison discipline and possible criminal prosecution.

“Arizona’s attempts to restrict and censor the content of advocacy organizations’ own websites certainly violates the Constitution and establishes a troubling precedent,” said Ann Beeson, Litigation Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program. “Prisoners and the groups that choose to assist them retain the same vital freedom of speech that all Americans do.”

In its letter to corrections chief Terry Stewart, the ACLU said such censorship is not “a legitimate governmental objective” and expressed confidence that the legislation would be swiftly invalidated by the courts. “There can be no doubt that the purpose and effect of this legislation is to suppress the flow of information from prisoners to the outside world, and to chill the advocacy of CCADP and other anti-death penalty and prisoner rights organizations,” the ACLU letter said

“”The Internet is a vital source of news and information for millions of people in the United States and around the world,”” said David C. Fathi, staff counsel with the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “”The government may not ban information about prisoners from the Internet any more than it could ban such information from newspapers or television.””

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