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
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.