Judge Rules in Favor of SPR in Suit Against Arizona Department of Corrections

December 16, 2002

LOS ANGELES – Prisoners who want to send material to be published on the website of Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR) or other organizations may not be stopped by the Arizona Department of Corrections, a federal judge ruled today.

A U.S. district court issued a preliminary injunction halting the enforcement of a law that sought to criminalize the publication of any information about Arizona inmates on the Internet. The law also banned communication between prisoners and organizations that publish information about them online.

The court ruled that the plaintiffs in the case – including SPR, the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty, and Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty – “have shown a strong likelihood of demonstrating the prison regulations are not rationally related to legitimate penological objectives.”

Blocking enforcement of the Arizona law, the court cited fears of “irreparable harm” to the First Amendment. According to recent reports, corrections officials had demanded that prisoners have their names and case information removed from advocacy websites or face prison discipline and possible criminal prosecution.

Lara Stemple, executive director of SPR, said the ruling keeps open channels of communication that are essential to the work of SPR. “We’re committed to building public awareness about the problem of prisoner rape, and the Internet is one of our main tools for doing that,” Stemple said. “Nothing is more effective than publishing the personal story of someone who has been brutally raped behind bars.”

SPR and the other plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and the ACLU’s National Prison Project, sued the department in July. SPR, a human rights organization dedicated to ending sexual violence in detention, posts stories, comments, and letters from survivors of rape in prison on its website.

Stemple insists, “SPR offers survivors a chance to connect with one another, and when you are isolated, ashamed, and traumatized, that connection can be a matter of life and death.”

Today’s ruling marks the second time in recent months that SPR has been involved in a case protecting free speech online. In September, a U.S. district court judge in California ruled that prisoners have a First Amendment right to receive mail that contains material printed from the Internet. The ACLU of Northern California and the Prison Law Office brought that case, Clement v. California Department of Corrections, and SPR provided a declaration.