Law Barring Online Information About Prisoners Enjoined, The
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, December 18, 2002.
Under a recent state law,
prisoner and civil rights groups had a choice: They could either delete
information they published on their Web sites about Arizona prisoners or
risk punishment of those prisoners they are trying to help.
But for now, this is not a
choice the groups will have to make.
Recognizing that this law
implicated First Amendment rights, federal judge Earl Carroll temporarily
enjoined enforcement of the law, which punishes prisoners if they write to
an Internet site provider, if any person accesses a Web site at a
prisoner's request, or if prisoners have access to the Internet.
Carroll's Dec. 16 order came
after the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of the Canadian
Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Stop Prisoner Rape, and Citizens
United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, filed suit to declare the
law unconstitutional and moved to stop enforcement of the law.
The law was enacted in
January 2000 to maintain prison security, but plaintiffs argue that it
goes too far.
Arizona prisoners do not have
access to the Internet; however, by writing to an advocacy group that
maintains a Web site, inmates are able to have information about
themselves or their case published online.
In their motion to enjoin
enforcement of the new law, the plaintiffs argued that the law violated
the First Amendment because prisoners are punished when their names are
mentioned on a Web site, even if the prisoner was not responsible for the
The law also violates
prisoners' rights because it prohibits them from writing to advocacy
groups about their innocence or sexual assault while in prison, and could
be used to punish prisoners when a Web service provider publishes an
account of their case that differs from that offered by the Arizona
Department of Corrections, they argued.
In addition, plaintiffs
argued that the law burdens the speech of Internet service providers
because they must regulate the circumstances under which free persons can
access their Web sites to ensure that no one is accessing the Web site at
the request of a prisoner.
As applied, the law "will
inhibit communication between plaintiffs and the very population they wish
to reach," argued attorneys for the ACLU. "With no audience, and severed
from the people for whom they advocate, plaintiffs' political speech is
The court found that there is
a strong likelihood that the restrictions are "not rationally related to
legitimate penological objections" and ordered the Arizona Department of
Corrections not to enforce the law.
The Department of Corrections
argued that the law was necessary to prevent crime victims from
encountering information about prisoners on the Internet that would cause
them further pain.
However, "the fact that
someone is offended by speech does not give that person a veto on the
speech," said Alice Bendheim, co-counsel for the ACLU.
The court also rejected the
department's argument that the law is necessary to prevent fraud by
prisoners or inappropriate contact with the public since these concerns
are already addressed by existing department policies and criminal
The temporary injunction will
remain in effect until the court has a full hearing on the issue.
According to the ACLU,
Arizona is the only state in the country to have enacted a statute that
imposes such severe restrictions on the First Amendment rights of inmates
Against the Death Penalty v. Stewart: Counsel: David Fathi, ACLU National
Prison Project, Washington, DC; Ann Beeson, ACLU Technology & Liberty
Program, New York, NY; Pamela K. Sutherland, Arizona Civil Liberties
Foundation, Phoenix, Ariz.; Alice L. Bendheim, Alice L. Bendheim P.C.,