We called for your help in June, and we’re calling for it again. Last month, California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitations (CDCR) issued revisions to its proposed “obscene materials,” i.e. censorship regulations published earlier this year.This was in response to hundreds of public comments submitted to CDCR by CURB members and members of the public. CDCR promised to go back to the drawing board, saying the public had misunderstood its intent.This shows our collective people power! 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.
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.
The proposed regulations are designed to:
Censor writings that educate the public about what is actually occurring inside the prisons,
Stifle the intellectual, personal and political education and development of those incarcerated,
Stifle efforts by prisoners to nonviolently organize, and
Expand the CDCR’s ability to arbitrarily cut off its wards from direly needed contact and support coming from outside, thus further isolating them.
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 joining fellow CURB organizations Flying Over Walls and The Transgender, Gender Variant & Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP) and PHSS make mass phone calls to CDC voicing our criticisms!
Thank you for everything you do and for your initial round of public comments in June.
Fact Sheet: Pending Changes to CDCR’s Censorship Regulations
See here for the text of the changes as revised (on October 20) and here for the original regs
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.”
“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 in 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 and 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 s/he is 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 October 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 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.
The proposed censorship regulations that we collectively and vehemently opposed a few months ago have been revised (as of October 20). The deadline for public comments is November 10—short notice.
Please submit your comments regarding the revisions asap! (A sample letter is included below.) The revisions can be viewed here.
The CDCr specifies: Please submit comments 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 email@example.com before the close of the public comment period. Comments must be received or postmarked no later than 5:00 p.m. on November 10, 2014. (We additionally recommend that those responding by e-mail cc firstname.lastname@example.org)
The revisions made since these proposed regulations first came out on March 25, 2014, appear to be non-substantive. Our comments supposedly will only be “heard” to the extent that they address the revisions, rather than the originally proposed text.
To the extent that the revisions incorporate language from the newly approved STG regulations that went into effect on October 17, 2014, they need to be robustly resisted. The revisions specify, at 3006(c) and 3006(c)(19), that “[w]ritten materials or photographs that indicate an association with validated STG members or associates, as described in subsections 3378.2(b)(5)-(6)” are deemed contraband. Well, 3378.2(b)(5)-(6), as adopted and enacted on October 17, 2014 (along with all of the new STG regulations), describes—in vague terms open to subjective interpretation by prison staff— materials that may innocently be present in a person’s cell, such as:
“[a]ny 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. …”
“[i]ndividual or group photographs with STG connotations such as those which include insignia, certified symbols, or other validated STG affiliates. …”
In other words, under the revised regulations, any of the following may be considered contraband: an address for, or photo of, a loved one whom happens to be deemed an STG affiliate; a photo or item that includes cultural iconography deemed “certified” by the CDCr (e.g., a jaguar, a pyramid, an image of MLK); a copy of the San Francisco Bayview, as discussed below.
Moreover, the CDCr’s October 20 revisions of 3134(d)-(e) do NOT reflect the community’s concerns regarding the originally proposed text—as recently expressed via hundreds of public comments—regarding the inclusion of publications (e.g., newspapers and the publications of rights organizations) in the list of items that may be considered “STG materials.” Nor do the revisions reflect the community’s concerns over the prospective permanent banning of publications. The text of 3134(d)–(e), as originally proposed, is more or less unchanged, except to the extent that the term “STG recruitment materials” has been swapped out for the phrase “STG written materials or photographs, as described in 3378.2(b)(5)-(6).”
Some publications, like the Bayview, may and often do contain the self-disclosed names of, and/or addresses for, persons who are validated. Thus, they are subject to censorship under 3378.2(b)(5)-(6).
Dear Mr. Lockwood et al.,
I recently reviewed the Revisions to Text as Originally Proposed (Obscene Materials) issued October 20. To my dismay, the Department has failed to meaningfully take into consideration concerns previously expressed by hundreds of community members regarding the originally proposed text. This, despite the Department’s promise that it would go back to the drawing board, and its claim that the public had misunderstood its intent.
If the public misunderstood the Department’s intent, the minimally revised language around so-called obscene materials does not clarify what the Department’s intent is. E.g., the text of 3134(d)–(e), as originally proposed, is not changed except to the extent that the term “STG recruitment materials” has been swapped out for the phrase “STG written materials or photographs, as described in 3378.2(b)(5)-(6).”
Moreover, “STG written materials or photographs, as described in 3378.2(b)(5)-(6)” comprises a category of materials that’s highly subjective to individual interpretation and whim on the part of staff. It apparently includes a host of innocent items that may be found in a person’s cell, including but not limited to:
—An address for, or photo of, a loved one or friend who happens to be deemed an STG affiliate
—An item that includes cultural iconography (e.g., a jaguar, a pyramid, an image of Martin Luther King)
—A copy of the San Francisco Bayview newspaper
The Department needs to go back to the drawing board again to ensure that (1) no person in custody will be penalized for possessing materials that in and of themselves have nothing to do with prohibited conduct or any rules violation; (2) no publication will be banned—permanently or temporarily— merely because a person in custody has chosen to publish his name and/or location in an editorial or news article, for example, or is seeking a penpal.
Under the guise of “obscenity” regulations, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCr) has proposed sweeping new political censorship rules for mail going both into and out of the prisons.
If these changes are approved, CDCr will permanently ban any documents it defines as “contraband,” including political publications and correspondence that should be protected by First Amendment constitutional rights.
The proposed regulations are designed with two main purposes: to censor writings that educate the public about what is actually occurring inside the prisons, and to stifle the intellectual and political education and organizing of prisoners themselves.
FACT SHEETLEGAL ANALYSIS “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.” -Prisoner in Corcoran State Prison SHU