ACLU Claims Arizona Prisons Withholding Selected News from Incarcerated, Violating First Amendment Rights

By Mihajla Milovanovic

PHOENIX, AZ – The American Civil Liberties Union is charging Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry has withheld information to the incarcerated related to racial superiority and sexual acts in news outlets at least five times in the past 18 months, violating the First Amendment.

Corene Kendrick, director of ACLU’s National Prison Project, stated, “The ban on these issues of The Nation is yet another example of prisons routinely restricting materials that incarcerated people can access, by way of unconstitutional, arbitrary rules.”

Kendrick said this is a clear violation of First Amendment rights of not only incarcerated people, but also the publisher and writers of the magazine.

With the delicacy of the issues, he explained, “The Nation, or any other publication, may not be banned simply because it describes acts of current or historic racism — reporting on racism is not promoting racism.”

For example, one of the storylines the ACLU said was banned was entitled, “Black Immigrants Matter.” Another major storyline that was also banned due to its “sexual content” was a photo of a clothed 93-year-old drag queen and a cartoon of two clothed people kissing. 

According to the ACLU, “The ADCRR regulation banning sexual content recently was held to be unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in another censorship case against the department.”

The editor of The Nation referenced Malcom X which explained how reading in prison changed lives, like his, and that was the main reason they decided to speak up.

Emerson Sykes, senior staff attorney, also added references to the many ways the ACLU has called out the ADCRR. This included acts such as allowing the book Chokehold, about racial disparities, to be distributed and more access to religious texts and music.

The following examples all led to the Ninth Circuit ruling against the ADCRR. In the letter sent by the ACLU, they asked to review the policies and protect the First Amendment rights of incarcerated Arizonans and publishers.

The ACLU specifically asked ADCRR “to provide uncensored issues of The Nation to the intended recipients, to notify mailroom staff that they cannot invoke the unconstitutional and vague ‘sexual content’ regulation, and to refrain in the future from banning materials reporting acts of current or historic racism.”

About The Author

Mihajla is a third year undergraduate student at the University of Southern California. She is pursing a major in Spanish and a minor in Immigration law. After graduation, she plans to go to law school and become an immigration lawyer.

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