National anti-censorship groups are chastising the Florida Department of Corrections for banning the Militant, a weekly newspaper published by the Socialist Party.
Christopher Finn, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, accused the Department of Corrections’ Literature Review Committee of abusing its censorship power in a letter sent last week to DOC Library Services Administrator Dean Peterson. The Literature Review Committee reviews every publication sent to inmates in Florida prisons.
A spokesman for the Department of Corrections says that since January of 2017, the Militant was only rejected six times, with two of those rejections reversed after the publisher appealed. DOC spokesman Patrick Manderfield says that by rule, Florida prison officials impound all publications when they arrive in institutions. He acknowledges that all 22 issues of the Militant automatically went before the Literature Review Committee for final review, but ultimately inmates who requested the publication were able to read 18 issues.
One of the impounded issues that prison officials banned had an article about a hunger strike by Oleg Sentsov, a Crimean movie director who was imprisoned by the Vladimir Putin regime in Russia. “They claimed the articles could encourage ‘riot’ or ‘insurrection’ without explaining how,” Finn writes.
Members of the People for the American Library Association and Project Censored added their names to the bottom of Finn’s letter. The ACLU of Florida, Amnesty International USA and PEN American have also sent letters opposing the banning of issues of the Militant.
The Literature Review Committee’s written criteria on what types of reading material inmates are allowed is enshrined in Florida administrative code.
A recent review by the Phoenix of banned and approved books and publications by the Literature Review Committee found some startling discrepancies between what the guidelines say and how government censors have ultimately ruled on certain pieces of material.
Benjamin Stevenson from the ACLU of Florida wrote in a letter to state Department of Corrections that “prison officials have abused their power to censor.”