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Tucson, Arizona Thursday, 19 December 2002
Unlock free speech
A badly crafted Arizona law trampled First Amendment rights.
A federal court judge has temporarily blocked an Arizona law that
aimed to keep sympathetic information about inmates off the
Internet. Critics view the injunction as an early Christmas gift
to some of the worst felons in Arizona's prison system - a view
that completely misses the point.
In limiting the information about inmates on the Internet, the Arizona
law also limits the free speech rights of anyone - inmate, lobbyist or
ordinary citizen - who would put information about the convict on the
Internet. For that reason, the law is likely to be found unconstitutional.
The American Civil Liberties Union, acting on behalf of the Canadian
Coalition Against the Death Penalty, filed a lawsuit against the Arizona
Department of Corrections last July. It contended the state law
illegally seeks to regulate free speech outside prison walls.
Some critics of the temporary injunction, issued Tuesday by U.S.
District Judge Earl H. Carroll, are no doubt under the impression that
inmates in Arizona prisons have direct access to the Internet. They do not.
Inmates are not sitting in their cells with a personal computer and an
Internet connection. They cannot surf the net or exchange e-mail with
What they can do, however, is send information about themselves to the
Canadian group, which then sets up a Web site for that prisoner. Inmates
can use the space to discuss their cases or request pen pals. Anyone who
wanted to do so could then write to the inmate through the regular mail.
Arizona law says that if information about a prisoner appears on the
Internet, the inmate can be punished. One of the attorneys who
challenged the law says that potential punishment in effect imposes
restrictions on what those outside the state can publish on their Web
sites. The punishment can be severe: It includes reducing or eliminating
early release time the prisoner has earned.
The Canadian coalition has been publishing Web sites for each inmate on
Arizona's Death Row, whether or not the inmate requests it. It says
Arizona's law embodies a double standard by permitting the Department of
Corrections to post inmate records on its Web site but making it illegal
for anyone else to post any other version of the inmate's information on
another Web site.
The Arizona law that is now blocked from enforcement was a poorly
crafted bill that resulted from the emotional appeal of a Tucson woman
whose husband had been murdered. Stardust Johnson's outrage at
discovering her husband's killer portrayed on the Internet as a kindly
animal-lover is entirely understandable, but it is not grounds for
disassembling the First Amendment rights of people who are not killers.
Mrs. Johnson is the widow of University of Arizona music professor Ron
Johnson, who was murdered in 1995. The Web site dedicated to the
convicted killer, Beau Greene, "gave no clue he was a brutal murderer,"
Mrs. Johnson said in a story in Wednesday's Star. "Instead he
represented himself as a lonely man holding a cuddly kitten who was
Any victim, or any member of a victim's family, would likely react with
the same degree of anger. Mrs. Johnson channeled her outrage into the
law, which the federal court has now temporarily blocked. That law says
"An inmate shall not send mail to or receive mail from a communication
service provider or remote computing service."
By temporarily blocking Arizona from enforcing that law, Judge Carroll
wisely noted that the law infringes upon the First Amendment rights of
those who have created the Web sites. We do not minimize the despair of
those who were victimized by brutal, remorseless felons, but emphasis
should be placed on controlling those felons in ways that do not violate
the constitutional rights of free citizens or groups with whom officials
may happen to have political or philosophical differences.
Judge Blocks Attempt By Arizona To Ban Prisoners From Cyberspace
By Robert Anthony Philips Dec 17, 2003
Death Row inmates and other state prisoners banned from cyberspace are
now back in - probably permanently.
A federal judge Monday temporarily stopped prison officials from
enforcing a law that forbids prisoners
<http://www.thedeathhouse.com/deathhousenewfi_109.htm> from sending
information, pictures and stories about their cases or themselves to Web
sites that publish them.
District Judge Earl Carroll issued the temporary injunction on the
Arizona law, enacted in 2000 to protect families of murder victims,
saying the law violates freedom of speech.
David Fahti, staff counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union's
National Prison Project and co-counsel on the legal challenge, said the
"battle is over" and doubts whether Arizona will push to have the
statute upheld and enforced.
"The judge's opinion makes very clear he thinks this statute is
unconstitutional," Fahti said. "I doubt there is anything the state can
do to change his mind...At some point, the preliminary injunction will
turn into a permanent injunction with either the state's agreement. As
of today, the state cannot enforce the statute."
A spokeswoman for the Arizona Attorney General's office did not
immediately return a telephone call for comment Tuesday morning.
The Arizona law banned prisoners from posting information about their
cases on the Web or corresponding using a remote computer service or
communication service provider. Various anti-death penalty groups and
other prisoner rights sites frequently provide inmates with Web space to
tell about their cases, post pictures and solicit pen-pals.
Under the law, prisoners who kept information on the Web were subject to
disciplinary measures and criminal prosecution. Fahti said that although
no prisoner was criminally charged, some did loose prison privileges for
having information posted about themselves on Web sites.
The ACLU argued that the law had a chilling effect on advocacy groups
who give prisoners Internet space and also sought to punish prisoners
who spoke out. The ACLU had challenged the law on behalf of anti-death
penalty and other advocacy groups
The groups involved include the Canadian Coalition to Abolish the Death
Penalty and the Florida- based Citizens United for Alternatives to the
Death Penalty <http://www.cuadp.org/>, both of which maintain prisoner
"Arizona's attempt to censor Internet content was a frightening step
toward government repression of free speech," said Eleanor Eisenberg,
the executive director of the ACLU of Arizona, in a prepared statement.
"Today's court order puts a timely and immediate stop to this
"Prisoners should not be punished for making public their claims of
innocence," said Abe Bonowitz, director of Citizens United for
Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "Today's decision is a tremendous
victory for civil liberties and freedom of speech. And it's not just
about prisoners. This benefits everyone."
Killer's Picture On Net Sparked Push For Law
Attempting to restrict prisoner speech is not a new battleground and
prison systems across the Untied States have been given wide leeway in
the courts, under the guise of security, to prohibit certain activities
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
Gary Phelps, the chief of staff for the Arizona Department of
Corrections, said in a interview with The Death House.com last July that
the cyberspace ban was put in place to prevent victims from coming
across the pictures and reading letters from the men and women who
committed crimes against them.
Phelps said the law was proposed after relatives of a Tucson man who was
murdered came across a Web site portraying the man convicted of the
killing as a caring person and included a photo of him holding a cat.
He said the law was enacted by legislature, and not proposed by the
Arizona Department of Corrections.
Stardust Johnson, the widow of the man killed, testified on behalf of
the bill, saying that prisoners are sometimes manipulators, sociopaths
and pscyhopaths who want to prey on people - and the Internet is a good
way for them to do it.
"I think its a shame that this judge has determined that prisoners can
have access," said State. Rep. Linday Gray, a Republican lawmaker from
Phoenix who co-sponsored the legislation that led to the ban. "Because
of their offenses against society, they should lose the priviledges that
the rest of free American enjoys."
But, apparently not to say what they want on Web sites.
Feisty Anti-Death Penalty Site
Fahti said the genesis of the law proves that it was to "surpress
unpopular speech" and not enacted for any legitimate security concern.
Prisoners, especially death row inmates who are held in isolation most
of the day, frequently write to the sites requesting pen-pals,
soliciting donations for defense funds or proclaiming their innocence.
Some letters even tell of the inner workings of prison systems and
alleged abuses. Many of the inmates also have their pictures posted on
On the forefront of the battle was the Canadian Coalition to Abolish the
Death Penalty <http://ccadp.org/arizona.htm>, a feisty group that refers
to Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating as "Killer Keating" and rips President
George Bush, who the coalition accuses of "homicide," for okaying
executions while governor of Texas.
After the Arizona law was enacted, the CCADP stated that an "Iron
Curtain (was) emerging around America's death camps."
In response to the ban, the CCADP announced that it had put the all
Arizona death row prisoners online "to ensure they were not effectively
silenced by the law."
Law barring online information about prisoners enjoined
* Although prisoners do not have access to the Internet, the law
would prevent communication between advocacy groups and the
prisoners they sought to assist.
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 material.
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 significantly chilled."
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 statutes.
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 and non-inmates.
(Canadian Coalition 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., Phoenix, Ariz.) -- ST
© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
By Michelle Delio
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,56880,00.html
02:00 AM Dec. 17, 2002 PT
Citing fears of irreversible damage to the First Amendment, a federal
judge in Arizona on Monday overturned a state law that banned
information about state prisoners from appearing on the Web.
Under the law, prisoners were barred from corresponding with a
"communication service provider" or "remote computing service" and were
also charged with a misdemeanor if anyone created a website or accessed
the Internet at a prisoner's request.
Acting on behalf of three prisoners' rights groups, the American Civil
Liberties Union filed the lawsuit Canadian Coalition Against the Death
Penalty v. Terry L. Stewart <http://ccadp.org/arizona.htm> in federal
district court last July, seeking to overturn what the ACLU and its
clients saw primarily as a global free speech issue.
"Arizona's attempt to censor Internet content was a frightening step
toward government repression of free speech," said Eleanor Eisenberg,
executive director of the ACLU of Arizona.
"It is extraordinary that Arizona prison officials believe they can tell
international groups opposed to the death penalty what they can and
cannot say online about prisoners in Arizona."
Some anti-death-penalty groups such as the Canadian Coalition Against
the Death Penalty <http://www.ccadp.org> and Citizens United for
Alternatives to the Death Penalty <http://www.cuadp.org> host sites for
prisoners on death row who want to publish information about their
cases, or who would like to communicate with pen pals.
Shortly after the law went into effect, the Arizona Department of
Corrections scoured the Internet and informed prisoners whose names
appeared on websites that the information had to be removed within three
weeks or they could face criminal charges.
But the Canadian anti-death-penalty group refused
<http://ccadp.org/arizona-letter2DOC.htm> to remove inmate pages from
its website, saying that the information had been posted before the law
went into effect and that the information belonged to the group.
According to Tracy Lamourie, one of the CCADP's directors, for the past
several months the coalition had received reports from prisoners
charging they were being punished as a result of surfing activist
"Today's decision stops the state and prison authorities from basically
attempting to blackmail groups like ours by punishing those whom we are
trying to help," Lamourie said.
"We are pleased that the Arizona court recognized that states cannot
legislate or restrict the action or First Amendment rights of prisoner
advocacy groups or human rights groups such as ours, nor can they
attempt to dictate what can be reported on websites or other methods of
A spokeswoman from the Arizona Department of Corrections said that to
her knowledge no prisoners had faced criminal charges because of the
law, but several had been disciplined "by losing minor privileges for a
short period of time."
The relative of a man allegedly murdered by an Arizona prison inmate had
mixed feelings on the ruling.
"I hate to even think of the bastard who murdered my stepbrother sharing
the same Internet as I do," said Keira Sherman, a secretary in
Wisconsin. "And I also hate to think that people are wasting their time
fighting for that bastard's rights.
"But I guess when I calm down a bit, I'd say I support the advocates'
right to do what they feel is correct," she added. "I just don't believe
in censorship, even though sometimes I wish I did."
U.S. District Judge Earl Carroll on Monday put a temporary halt to
an Arizona state
law that banned prisoners from posting information about their cases on the Web or
corresponding using a remote computer service or communication service provider.
Under the law, prisoners who kept their information on the Web were subject to
penalties including criminal prosecution.
The law was designed to maintain prison security in the digital
advocacy groups said some corrections officers were using it to threaten inmates
out of posting their side of the story on the Web. Although prisoners do not have
direct access to the Web, prisoner advocacy groups would post information on an
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
other civil rights groups challenged
the law on behalf of anti-death penalty and other prisoner rights groups, saying it
threatened free speech.
"Arizona's attempt to censor Internet content was a frightening
government repression of free speech," Eleanor Eisenberg, executive director of
the ACLU of Arizona, said in a statement.
The judge agreed, issuing a preliminary injunction saying that
protecting the First
Amendment rights of prisoner advocacy groups and their clients "is a compelling
Furthermore, he said corrections officials already had methods in
place to protect
public safety, including a ban on prisoner access to the Web and searches of ingoin
and outgoing inmate communications.
The Arizona Department of Corrections did not immediately respond
Judge halts law banning inmates on the Internet
Dec. 17, 2002 03:00 PM
A federal judge ordered the Arizona Department of Corrections to stop
enforcing a policy forbidding inmates from corresponding with, or
appearing on, Web sites.
U.S. District Judge Earl Carroll granted an injunction request by the
American Civil Liberties Union to stop enforcement of the law, which is
the subject of a pending lawsuit."Putting free speech behind bars simply
because it concerns prisoners sets a dangerous precedent," said Arizona
ACLU attorney David Fathi. "The court's decision makes clear that
Arizona may not jail the Internet."The statute, passed by the
Legislature in 2000, makes it a misdemeanor for an inmate to communicate
with Internet service providers, send a letter to a Web site or to a
third party who then forwards it to a Web site or publishes it for the
inmate.Inmates can lose privileges, good-behavior credits or face other
punishments for violations, corrections officials said.The lawsuit was
filed by the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty, which is
represented by the ACLU.The group claims the law violates prisoners'
constitutional right to free speech, and attempts to suppress
unfavorable opinions about the Corrections Department.In his ruling,
Carroll wrote that protecting the First Amendment is a "compelling
public interest."Department of Corrections Chief of Staff Gary Phelps
said that since the law went into effect, 53 inmates have been cited for
violations. However, until a final ruling is made on the case, those
citation will not be dealt with or removed from prisoners records.He
said the law is necessary because inmates use the Internet to defraud
the public, contact minors and even plan escapes.The department only
investigates inmate Internet publications when information is brought to
its attention."The Internet in general is difficult to police," Phelps
said.An increasing number of prisoners are going online to post their
stories on Web sites.Debra Jean Milke, the only woman on the state's
death row, has a site proclaiming her innocence and soliciting donations
for her defense. She was sentenced to die for having her 4-year-old son
killed before Christmas 1989."The public will surely be disgusted with
what they see on the Internet from murderers and rapists," said DOC
spokesman Mike Arra. "Many people could, and are, preyed upon by inmates
through their Internet games."The state Legislature passed the 2000 law
after being lobbied by Stardust Johnson, whose husband Roy - a
University of Arizona music professor - was murdered after leaving a
church recital he had given. Mrs. Johnson was outraged when she came
across a Web site her husband's killer was using to solicit pen
pals.Eisenberg said the inmate Internet law was created in response to
Mrs. Johnson and that prison security arguments made were an
afterthought."I don't mean to sound unempathatic," Eisenberg said. "But
there's a powerful tool - it's called the (power) off button."---On the
Net:Arizona Department of Corrections:
http://www.adc.state.az.us/American Civil Liberties Union:
http://www.aclu.orgCanadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty:
Find this article at:
Return To Arizona Death Row Prisoner Pages
U.S. judge bars law keeping inmates off Net
By Howard Fischer
CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
PHOENIX - A federal judge barred the state from enforcing a law
blocking prison inmates from soliciting correspondence on the Internet.
U.S. District Judge Earl Carroll said the law illegally infringes on
the First Amendment rights of those with whom the inmates want to
correspond. He said that while officials from the Department of
Corrections have legitimate security concerns, they can be addressed
in less obtrusive ways.
Mike Arra, spokesman for the agency, said attorneys are studying the
ruling before deciding whether to appeal.
Carroll's decision drew an angry reaction from Stardust Johnson whose
husband, Ron, a University of Arizona music professor, was murdered in
It was Stardust Johnson who spurred lawmakers to enact the ban after
seeing a Web site set up on behalf of Beau Greene, the man convicted
of her husband's killing.
She said that without the legal barriers inmates, including
pedophiles, can make contact through the Internet with people who are
unaware of the crimes they committed.
Johnson had particularly harsh words for one of the three
organizations that sued, the Canadian Coalition Against the Death
Penalty. "They ought to go back to Canada and take care of their own
business there," she said.
Johnson said Greene's Web site was misleading at best.
"It gave no clue he was a brutal murderer," she said. "Instead he
presented himself as a lonely man holding a cuddly kitten who was
Ron Johnson disappeared after an organ performance at a Green Valley
church. He was found beaten to death four days later, face-down in a
muddy wash west of Tucson. Greene was sentenced to die for Johnson's
Inmates have no direct Internet access. But various groups, like the
Canadian Coalition, make Web pages available for inmates who send them
information about themselves, either seeking to tell their story or
looking for pen pals to write them through the regular mail system.
The 2000 law closed that avenue by making it a crime for inmates to
send information that would be posted on the Internet.
In defending the law, the state said the restrictions are necessary to
prevent attempts to defraud the public and preclude "inappropriate
contact" with minors, victims or other inmates.
Carroll, however, said there are other ways to do that, pointing out
that inmates have no direct Internet access.
He noted that prison staffers can open incoming and outgoing mail and
examine it for contraband. And letters that are not privileged may be
read to determine if the contents "might facilitate criminal activity."
The judge also said current prison regulations permit staff members to
monitor and record inmates' telephone calls.
Carroll also said this is not strictly about the rights of inmates. He
said those who wish to communicate with inmates also have a right to
do so - and that the ban on inmates' sending or receiving mail from
groups that post information on their Web pages infringes on those
David Fathi, an attorney representing the three organizations, said
the law amounted to Arizona trying to impose its restrictions on what
others outside the state could post on their Web sites.
But Assistant Attorney General Jim Morrow said the only bar was to
inmates' sending information. He said nothing precluded inmate rights
groups from posting stories about Arizona inmates.
Arra said there are other reasons to limit what inmates can post.
"Many inmates put advertisements seeking pen pals on the Internet and
seek donations to their causes or to their defense funds," he said.
"But there's really no authority that is monitoring where that money
might go other than the inmate himself."
Arra acknowledged that the law covers only Internet postings - and
never precluded inmates from doing the same thing in individual
letters or even through ads in commercial publications.