Stop the regulations that would ban the Bay View from California prisons

“Censorship” – Art: Michael D. Russell, C-90473, PBSP D7-217, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

“Censorship” – Art: Michael D. Russell, C-90473, PBSP D7-217, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

From San Francisco Bay View

The public comment period is open now; it closes Nov. 10, 2014, at 5 p.m. See here for the text of the changes as revised (on Oct. 20) and here for the regs as originally proposed

Under the guise of “obscenity” regulations, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has proposed sweeping new political censorship rules for mail going both into and out of the prisons. We called for your help in June, and we’re calling for it again.

The CDCR promised to go back to the drawing board, saying the public had misunderstood its intent. Yet, the revisions recently made by the department are superficial and fail to address the serious concerns so many of us raised in our public comments.On Oct. 20, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) issued revisions to its proposed “obscene materials” or censorship regulations published earlier this year. This was in response to hundreds of public comments submitted to the department.

If the proposed regulations are approved, CDCR will be able to permanently ban any publications it considers contraband, including political publications and correspondence that should be protected by First Amendment constitutional rights. (Banning the Bay View, which CDCR blames for instigating the hunger strikes, seems to be a major objective. – ed.)

The proposed regulations are designed to (1) censor writings that educate the public about what is actually occurring inside the prisons, (2) stifle the intellectual, personal and political education and development of those incarcerated, (3) stifle efforts by prisoners to nonviolently organize, and (4) expand the CDCR’s ability to arbitrarily cut off its wards from direly needed contact and support coming from outside, thus further isolating them.

Under the guise of “obscenity” regulations, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has proposed sweeping new political censorship rules for mail going both into and out of the prisons. We called for your help in June, and we’re calling for it again.

Please weigh in and speak out against these regulations. And, after doing so, please spread the word and join the phone action on Monday.

For a comment to have impact, it must address some aspect of the proposed regulations. To help craft a critique, please read the FACT SHEET (following below) prepared by PHSS and this powerful article published in the SF Bay View, “New proposed censorship rules mean more torture for California prisoners in solitary confinement“ by Mutope Duguma.

Take an issue or two – or more – and express your feelings. Your comments don’t have to be long or fancy, but they do have to talk about the new regulations.

A few pointers

Be specific. Cite specific sections of the code. For example: “Subsection 3006(c)(19)” would violate journalists’ First Amendment rights” instead of saying “These changes are bad.”)

Ask questions. It’s even better for your critique to ask specific questions, which is more likely to get a response than a statement alone.

Change the “subject” of the email to a unique title. This helps keep the emails from being bundled together.

Fact Sheet: Pending changes to CDCR’s Censorship Regulations

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCr) is poised to implement proposed new rules governing materials it considers contraband. CDCr publicizes at its website that the purpose of these censorship rules is to forbid “publications that indicate an association with groups that are oppositional to authority and society [emphasis added].” (See Initial Statement of Reasons, p. 4.)

Under the new rules, the CDCr could permanently ban any publications it considers “contraband,” including publications containing political content and correspondence typically protected by First Amendment constitutional rights.

What are activists inside CDCr SHU torture units saying?

“These new proposed regulations are designed to serve one purpose and that is to censor any writings, mailings and publications that educate the public to what is actually occurring in these prisons.”

“This is an attempt to silence prisoners and publishers whose voices have been prominent in waging struggle against prisoners’ perpetual suffering. CDCR wants to stifle prisoners’ truths and disconnect them from society at large.”

“They want to be free to pursue the maintenance of the SHU torture units and the expansion of the prison industrial complex (and the ever-growing portion of the public’s tax dollars) without the prospect of legitimate criticism and the voice of opposition.”

“These new proposed regulations are designed to serve one purpose and that is to censor any writings, mailings and publications that educate the public to what is actually occurring in these prisons.”

“They seek to not only halt all criticism, but also the education and political development of underclass segments of their population – particularly those who are imprisoned … They seek to control all we read, see, learn or think.”

“Allowing CDCr to censor the content of our mail would violate not only the First Amendment but also CCR Title 15, Section 3135(b): ‘Disagreement with the sender’s or receiver’s morals, values, attitudes, veracity or choice of words will not be cause for correctional staff to disallow mail. Correctional staff shall not challenge or confront the sender or receiver with such value judgments.’”

What will the new rules do?

Expand the definition of contraband: Subsection 3006(c)(19) expands the definition of contraband to include “written materials or photographs that indicate an association with validated STG [Security Threat Group] members or associates, as described in subsections 3378.2(b)(5)-(6).” As subsections 3378.2(b)(5) and (6) specify, this means:

“Any material or documents evidencing STG activity such as the membership or enemy lists, roll call lists, constitutions, organizational structures, codes, training material, etc., of specific STGs or addresses, names, identities of validated STG affiliates” [sic];

“Individual or group photographs with STG connotations such as those which include insignia, certified symbols, or other validated STG affiliates.”

Possession of contraband is a disciplinary violation resulting in specific punishments. Also, it can contribute to a person being validated as a member or associate of an STG (formerly termed “prison gang”), leading to a person’s indefinite placement in solitary confinement.

Promote confiscation, censorship and/or permanent banning of political mail: Under the current rules governing materials considered contraband (which are still in effect until the new rules are approved) every month’s issue of the San Francisco Bay View from January to June – except February’s – was disallowed at Pelican Bay State Prison and withheld until well after the hunger strike began on July 8. Those issues were packed with letters from prisoners explaining and discussing the reasons for the upcoming strike. Under the new rules (subsection 3134.1(d)), however, an institution could permanently ban a publication if its decision to temporarily withhold it is affirmed by the Division of Adult Operations.

Further criminalize culture, historical understanding and self-knowledge, and political dialogue: CDCr views political and historical writings, as well as materials relating to cultural identity, as an indication of association with an STG. As stated above, the new rules define “written materials or photographs that indicate an association with a validated STG member or associate” as contraband.

Further criminalize correspondence overall: Subsection 3135(c)(14) adds “written materials or photographs going into or out of the prison that indicate an association with validated STG members or associates” to a list of “Disturbing or Offensive Correspondence” which may be prohibited. So, if a person’s mom sends her incarcerated son a photo of his brother, and if his brother is a validated STG member or associate, the photo is considered contraband!

Further impacts for prisoners: Under current state law, media may not conduct face to face interviews with prisoners without a prison’s approval. During approved tours, reporters are only permitted to speak with individuals hand-picked by officials. Incarcerated persons are not allowed to send confidential mail to journalists about prison abuses. Under the new regulations, their outgoing mail can be banned altogether.

If political publications are banned, prisoners will be cut off from nonviolent organizing efforts to improve their situation. In California, where correspondence between prisoners is only allowed with institutional approval, or is punished, publications enable those suffering in silence and isolation to know they are not alone.

How could this affect those with loved ones inside, activists, advocates and attorneys?

Under the recently approved STG regulations that went into effect Oct. 17, “STG suspect” is defined (under section 3000) as “any person who, based on documented evidence, is involved periodically or regularly with the members or associates of a STG” (emphasis added). Thus, the sheer number of items that can be considered contraband is limitless, as mail sent by any person who is considered an “STG suspect” – incarcerated or not – is apparently indicative of “an association with” a person validated as an STG affiliate.

Mail and visiting privileges could be revoked for outside supporters and loved ones, in addition to any other consequences that may result. This would have the collateral effect of cutting off prisoners from direly needed contact and support and increasing their isolation.

Other resources

New proposed censorship rules mean more torture for California prisoners in solitary confinement” article published in the San Francisco Bay View

Stop Prison Censorship!” article published in the San Francisco Bay View

Public hearing date is Nov. 10, 2014. Please submit comments no later than 5 p.m. PST on Nov. 10 via ouraction page or direct to: Timothy M. Lockwood, Chief, Regulation and Policy Management Branch, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, P.O. Box 942883, Sacramento, CA, 94283-0001; by fax to (916) 324-6075; or by e-mail at rpmb@cdcr.ca.gov. We additionally recommend cc’ing your comments to the California Office of Administrative Law, at staff@oal.ca.gov.

Spread the word on Facebook and ask your friends, family, neighbors, pastor, school class, place of worship, and organizations to write also.

Then take action on Monday by making mass phone calls to CDCR voicing our criticisms!

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) is a coalition based in the Bay Area made up of grassroots organizations and community members committed to amplifying the voices of and supporting California prisoners. Email them at prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com.