Incarceration Nation

Pushback on Censorship

By Peter Mukuria

I’ve been a subscriber of San Francisco Bay View Newspaper, MainLine, Socialist Viewpoint, Revolution newsletter, Prisoners’ Revolutionary Literature Fund, Socialism and Democracy, etc., for awhile. These are publications containing left-wing political content that highlights social, political, and economic issues affecting our disenfranchised communities and prison related issues which tend to be ignored by many other media outlets, which are rather aggressively fixated on the imbecile in the White House.

Upon arriving at the facility, most of these publications are arbitrarily disapproved with pseudo justification that “content could be detrimental to offenders rehabilitation efforts.” I find this to be an ironic justification given that this is a prison with an extensive history of abuse on fully restrained, defenseless prisoners, depriving them of their basic human needs such as food, showers, and outside recreation. Shouldn’t these abusive, sadistic, and malicious practices be considered “detrimental to offenders’ rehabilitation” efforts?

Furthermore, prison officials also claim with no proof whatsoever that the “publication is a threat to institutional safety” or that the publication contains “material that depicts or promotes violence, disorder, insurrection, terrorist or criminal activity in violation of state, or federal laws, or the violation of the offender disciplinary procedure.” Essentially, what they have are a number of irrational, dogmatic and unconstitutional criteria for publication disapproval.

In order to adequately substantiate any of these claims they would need to establish a penological interest. Anything short of a precedent is thus rendered arbitrary and unconstitutional in direct violation of prisoners’ First and 14th Amendment rights. Prison officials have a responsibility to maintain security, discipline and good order in these plantations, but certainly not by trampling upon prisoners’ constitutional rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court established in the case of Turner v Safley (482 U.S. 89) verbatim: “A regulation cannot be sustained where the logical connection between the regulation and asserted goal is so remote as to render the policy arbitrary or irrational.” False reasons do not meet such a standard.

The aforementioned publications are often disapproved, not as a result of being in violation of prison policy, but solely based on prison officials’ own political preferences. Another factor that explains why these publications are often disapproved is they offer prisoners a platform by allowing us to share our experiences from behind enemy lines. In so doing they expose the countless injustices we face daily.

Additionally, Virginia Department Of Corrections also violates their own written policy in failing to notify prisoners of disapproved publications. According to operating procedure 803.2 sec. D, “When a publication is disapproved, offender must be notified through notification of publication disapproval within ten working days. Upon receiving the disapproval form the offender has seven days to appeal or choose the manner in which to dispose of the disapproved material.” Not surprisingly, prison officials never notify prisoners of the disapproved publications within the mandated ten days and in those rare instances we are notified, it is usually at least a month later, rendering us unable to appeal or grieve the arbitrary decision since it is well over the ten days mandated by policy. This failure to notify prisoners of disapproved publications in accordance to prison policy violates the 14th Amendment due process rights.

In the case of Thornburgh v. Abbott (109 S.ct.1874.490 U.S. 401 [1989]), the Supreme Court yet again established that, “Wardens may not reject a publication solely because its content is religious, philosophical, political, social, sexual, or unpopular, or repugnant.” Therefore the claim that these publications are a “threat to security” etc., is not only ridiculous but fails to follow the Supreme Court ruling.

Censorship of publications due to their political views and regarding the disenfranchised communities and prison related matters is an issue affecting all prisoners in common. This commonality far exceeds our differences. Prisoners should never settle for letting others fight for us. We must spearhead the changes we seek and constantly challenge unconstitutional policies and practices. However, we are not alone in this fight. The external pressure from those in society is of great value and in many instances more effective than the internal pressure that prisoners can apply. What’s needed is a collective approach to challenge this issue along with a myriad of other issues that prisoners are subjected to daily. No woman or man should ever be stripped of her/his rights without putting up resistance. If we passively relinquish one right, chances are that another essential right will be stripped from us.

Dare to struggle, Dare to win, All power to the people!

Write to Comrade Pitt:

Peter Kamau Mukuria #1197165

Red Onion State Prison

P.O. Box 1900

Pound, VA 24279


Peter Mukuria is deputy Chairman of Virginia’s New Afrikan Black Panther Party, currently incarcerated at Virginia’s super max facility, Red Onion State Prison.