Inmates at Pelican Bay's SHU have rights too...and among the most important of those are the First Amendment constitutional right to political speech and expression. Secured housing units throughout the state have been the subject of numerous prison brutality allegations.
But things might be looking up for SHU inmates. For one thing, prison management is going to have to come up with better reasons for censoring outgoing mail than unsubstantiated claims that such mail is "gang-related."
The Court of Appeal, First District, just granted a petition of habeas corpus directing a letter written by Pelican Bay SHU inmate James Crawford be delivered to its intended recipient, a journalist with a Bay Area paper.
Guards confiscated the letter, which referenced New Afrikan Nationalist Revolutionary terminology, on the grounds that it was gang-related and threatened prison security. In the letter Crawford expressed his disagreement with the reporter's assessment that California housed only three political prisoners.
The Court wrote that "Even prisoners who are gang members retain rights of expression and those rights cannot be taken away by a governmental agency simply speculating, without any evidence whatsoever, that what it concedes to be 'seemingly innocuous' is not."
On another front, the Media Access Bill AB 1270 (Ammiano) is moving on to the Appropriations Committee. The Media Access Bill AB 1270 will expand media opportunities to interview inmates at state prisons.
Currently, reporters are not allowed to request interviews with specific inmates but rather must rely on random interviews. Also, the bill prohibits prison staff from retaliating against inmates who choose to grant interviews to the press.
Media oversight -- as well as legal oversight -- is critical to ensure the rights of inmates are protected behind locked gates. The Media Access Bill AB 1270 will thus help prison advocates and anyone who values truth and accountability speak truth to power and end prison brutality in California.