Will the Supreme Court Strike a Blow Against Prison Censorship?

The Court will soon decide whether to hear a case arguing that Florida’s ban on Prison Legal News is unconstitutional. One of the authors of a supporting brief explains why upholding the First Amendment for prisoners is in everyone’s interest.

Access to the monthly magazine Prison Legal News (PLN) is one of the few ways prisoners learn about criminal justice issues, including their rights as prisoners. Most incarcerated individuals across America have access to the publication.

The exception? Every prisoner in Florida.

Since 2009, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) has banned every issue of PLN, claiming that the advertisements in the magazine raise security concerns. FDOC’s blanket ban on PLN makes Florida an outlier. No other state, county or even our federal government has a de facto ban on PLN because of its ads.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld the ban. Soon, the Supreme Court will have a chance to weigh in. Reversing the ban will not only benefit both prisoners and society, it will ensure that the First Amendment is upheld.

PLN has a subscription base of more than 10,000 people and contains over 70 pages of useful information related to prisoners’ rights every month. PLN’s reporting has had a significant impact on changing prison policy for the better and exposing abuses. The magazine has covered issues like solitary confinement, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, visitation and medical care in prisons.

In addition, PLN’s reporting has led to real and direct change. When PLN revealed the exorbitant rates families had to pay to call their loved ones in prison, the Federal Communications Commission responded by instituting changes to the policy in 2013 and 2015.

We know the economic and social costs of mass incarceration are astronomical. Allowing publications like PLN behind bars improves literacy and learning, which leads to better outcomes for prisoners when they re-enter society. Many prisoners struggle with literacy — more so than average citizens.

Promoting education behind the bars is one of the lowest-cost ways to reduce prisoners’ chances of reoffendingand it’s therefore vital to public safety. After all, 95 percent of prisoners are eventually released back into society.

Ensuring that we are releasing educated returning citizens is in all of our interests.

Access to books and other reading materials within prison also creates hope. Legal publications in particular can help prisoners confront injustice and provide them self-efficacy — the sense that they and their actions have value. Though public defenders may help with direct appeals, most prisoners cannot afford an attorney after that stage and must represent themselves in civil and habeas petitions.

With decreasing access to law libraries, PLN and materials like it can be immensely valuable in promoting access to courts.

See also The Crime Report: “Access Denied: The Digital Crisis in Prisons.”

On the legal front, we should be suspicious of any government that censors a publication that criticizes its policies.

In this case, PLN has reported directly on abuses in Florida prisons, so it is far from surprising that Florida’s corrections department would disfavor the publication. However, the First Amendment requires courts to apply a more rigorous review when the government is trying to silence speech of which it disapproves.

While it might be more convenient for FDOC to place a de facto ban on every issue of PLN because it does not like the stories that are being reported, convenience does not make this decision legal.

Of course, there are security concerns in prison that necessitate restrictions on reading materials.

As I have written in the past, “regulations make sense when it comes to books that instruct readers how to make weapons, incite riots or escape prison.” But we must look at these restrictions with the utmost scrutiny. The scope of the First Amendment does not depend on the whim of the government. And when a blanket ban exists, we should be even more wary.

Last week, several center-right organizations — including the R Street Institute, the Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Reason Foundation and the Rutherford Institute — have submitted an amicus brief on the issue, noting the importance of ensuring the First Amendment is adhered to behind bars, and the substantial benefits of allowing prisoners to access publications like PLN.

Nina Bala

Nina Bala

We hope that the Supreme Court will grant review on this issue. After all, improved access to reading materials in prison benefits us all.

For additional information, see also, The Crime Report: “The Silencing of Prison Legal News”

Nila Bala is the Associate Director of Criminal Justice Policy at R Street Institute, as well as a former public defender from Baltimore.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Should News Websites Be Featuring Police Mugshots?

One newspaper says that publishing mugshots has been a “game-changer” for website popularity. Media ethics experts like Kelly McBride says “best practice would be to follow up on every single case,” which media rarely do.

An editor at the Times of Northwest Indiana says publishing mugshots online has been a “game-changer” for the paper, which includes collections of booking photos below its crime stories and standalone galleries of recent arrestees, reports the Columbia Journalism Review. For some newsrooms, mugshots—which are easy to obtain from law enforcement—remain a staple. North Carolina’s Salisbury Post runs a “Mugshot Monday” feature. “It usually is the most popular thing on the website for that particular day,” says Editor Elizabeth Cook. In Colorado Springs, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Gazette publishes a “Mugshot Monday” feature limited to those people sought on federal warrants. Mugshot galleries usually divulge only a subject’s name, age, and suspected offense; they rarely attract follow-up coverage, so the outcomes of criminal charges are not covered in detail. In such cases, mugshot subjects are preserved for readers as suspects. In others, follow-up coverage comes slowly.

While it’s not unethical to publish mugshots, some media ethics specialists argue that newsrooms should contextualize images for readers, articulate the public-service value of disseminating them, and pursue the stories after the photos are taken. “I’m not going to condemn someone” for publishing mugshots, says Ted Gest of John Jay College’s Center on Media, Crime, and Justice. As a journalist, Gest  favors information about the criminal justice system being available and publishable. He adds, “My question would be: Is it fair to people if you don’t show the disposition of the case?” Journalists should seek to minimize harm, says Bastiaan Vanacker of the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago. “If the benefit of publishing it is just, ‘Well, it happened’ … I don’t think that’s a good enough reason.” “Best practice would be to follow up on every single case,” says Kelly McBride, an ethics specialist at the Poynter Institute.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How Cleveland.com Respects ‘Right to be Forgotten’

Cleveland.com editor Chris Quinn has changed the site’s policy of automatically using mugshots (“the worst photos people will ever take”) with minor crime stories. It no longer names perpetrators of minor crimes. The site is also launching an effort to review individuals’ requests to remove their names from old stories.

When you hear “right to be forgotten,” you may think of the European Union, where right-to-be-forgotten regulations allow nearly anyone to ask Google to take down search results they don’t like. The result is a clash between free speech, the public’s right to know, and privacy. Must everything be preserved on the internet forever? If you commit a minor, dumb crime when you’re young, is it fair for articles about that crime to pop to the top of the Google results when a prospective employer searches your name for the rest of your life? The old newspaper standard is: Never change anything that’s true; news values come first. In 2018, it’s clear that standard isn’t exactly working; a brief item on Page A17 in one day’s print newspaper doesn’t have the same sort of impact as a permanent digital record, reports Nieman Lab. Chris Quinn, the editor and president of Cleveland.com/Advance Ohio, is an example of a journalist who is not an absolutist. “It really comes down to: How long does somebody have to pay for a mistake?” said Quinn, who has worked in newsrooms for over 40 years. He’s leading the charge to make newsrooms more compassionate through a unique take on the concept of the right to be forgotten.

Quinn has changed Cleveland.com’s policy of automatically using mugshots (“the worst photos people will ever take”) with minor crime stories. It no longer names perpetrators of minor crimes. Cleveland.com is also launching an effort to review individual’s requests to remove their names from old stories. (Similar efforts have taken place at outlets like the New Haven Independent.) It’s a process that starts from a place of compassion, abandons the idea of doing things just because they’ve always been done that way, and injects nuance throughout a newspaper’s editorial decisions. 

from https://thecrimereport.org

How Cleveland.com Respects ‘Right to be Forgotten’

Cleveland.com editor Chris Quinn has changed the site’s policy of automatically using mugshots (“the worst photos people will ever take”) with minor crime stories. It no longer names perpetrators of minor crimes. The site is also launching an effort to review individuals’ requests to remove their names from old stories.

When you hear “right to be forgotten,” you may think of the European Union, where right-to-be-forgotten regulations allow nearly anyone to ask Google to take down search results they don’t like. The result is a clash between free speech, the public’s right to know, and privacy. Must everything be preserved on the internet forever? If you commit a minor, dumb crime when you’re young, is it fair for articles about that crime to pop to the top of the Google results when a prospective employer searches your name for the rest of your life? The old newspaper standard is: Never change anything that’s true; news values come first. In 2018, it’s clear that standard isn’t exactly working; a brief item on Page A17 in one day’s print newspaper doesn’t have the same sort of impact as a permanent digital record, reports Nieman Lab. Chris Quinn, the editor and president of Cleveland.com/Advance Ohio, is an example of a journalist who is not an absolutist. “It really comes down to: How long does somebody have to pay for a mistake?” said Quinn, who has worked in newsrooms for over 40 years. He’s leading the charge to make newsrooms more compassionate through a unique take on the concept of the right to be forgotten.

Quinn has changed Cleveland.com’s policy of automatically using mugshots (“the worst photos people will ever take”) with minor crime stories. It no longer names perpetrators of minor crimes. Cleveland.com is also launching an effort to review individual’s requests to remove their names from old stories. (Similar efforts have taken place at outlets like the New Haven Independent.) It’s a process that starts from a place of compassion, abandons the idea of doing things just because they’ve always been done that way, and injects nuance throughout a newspaper’s editorial decisions. 

from https://thecrimereport.org

Ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio Sues NY Times for Libel

Arpaio claims an opinion piece by Michelle Cottle includes “false, defamatory factual assertions” that will hurt his 2020 campaign for the late Sen. John McCain’s seat.

Former Maricopa, Az., Sheriff Joe Arpaio filed a libel suit against the New York Times and a member of its editorial board, Politico reports. In a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the ex-lawman takes issue with a Times opinion piece published after Arpaio’s loss in the state’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate. The article by Michelle Cottle was headlined, “Well, at Least Sheriff Joe Isn’t Going to Congress: Arpaio’s loss in Arizona’s Senate Republican primary is a fitting end to the public life of a truly sadistic man.” Arpaio argues that the piece “contains several false, defamatory factual assertions.” He says claims in the article were “carefully and maliciously calculated to damage and injure” his reputation among the law enforcement community, as well as among GOP donors who could help bankroll his 2020 run for the late Sen. John McCain’s seat, currently held by Sen. Jon Kyl.

Arpaio seeks $147.5 million in damages from Cottle and the Times, as well as his attorneys’ fees and costs. He is represented by Larry Klayman of the conservative watchdog group Freedom Watch. Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said, “We intend to vigorously defend against the lawsuit.” Before running for the Senate, Arpaio was known for his strong anti-immigration stance, as well as allegations of professional misconduct. He was convicted of contempt of court in July 2017 but was pardoned by President Trump the next month.

from https://thecrimereport.org

New ‘Serial’ Series Enters Saturated True-Crime Field

Will the podcast’s newest endeavor be heard above the noise? “There are a lot of reporters, there are a lot of researchers, there are a lot of people who have been banging this drum for a while, wanting to talk about the criminal justice system,” co-creator Julie Snyder says.

During the year Sarah Koenig spent embedded in Cleveland’s Justice Center Complex for the new season of “Serial,” a few employees on separate occasions mistook her for a student journalist and asked what school she attended, the Washington Post reports. Even the bellwether of the criminal-justice podcasting world doesn’t get recognized in a courthouse. “Serial” has been downloaded more than 340 million times since it launched in 2014 with Koenig leading its serialized exploration of whether Baltimore County high-schooler Adnan Syed was rightfully convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend. The podcast electrified the medium, becoming the first to win a Peabody Award.

It also exposed an appetite for true crime stories that has been satiated by a growing number of podcasts: “S-Town” and “Crimetown,” “Missing and Murdered” and “My Favorite Murder,” “Wine and Crime” and “White Wine True Crime!” On Thursday, it is in this saturated true-crime environment that the show releases Season 3, in which  Koenig and reporter Emmanuel Dzotsi tackle the criminal justice system by presenting multiple Cleveland cases, each allotted one to three episodes. Will the podcast’s newest endeavor be heard above the noise? “There are a lot of reporters, there are a lot of researchers, there are a lot of people who have been banging this drum for a while, wanting to talk about the criminal justice system,” co-creator Julie Snyder says. This season will go into every corner of the courthouse, from one attorney seeking advice from another in the middle of a hallway to Koenig’s conference-room tete-a-tetes with the defense. The show is more concerned with the aftermath and implications of crimes than the actual actions: “A lot of times, you need to move past the idea of innocent and guilt and who did it,” Snyder says. “I want to talk about the people who are actually affected by it.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Does ‘Rape Culture’ in the Media Fuel a Permissive Climate for Sex Crimes?

Biased or unsympathetic press treatment of victims is a good predictor of a high incidence of rape, according to researchers who analyzed coverage of 310,000 cases between 2000 and 2013. It also influences police to make fewer arrests , they claimed.

Rape is more common in areas where “rape culture” persists in the media, according to a new study published in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science.

Matthew Baum and Dara Cohen of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and Yuri Zhukov of the University of Michigan analyzed coverage of 310,000 sex crime-related articles published in 279 newspapers from 2000 to 2013.

They specifically examined how often these outlets published stories about rape, and if the stories showed evidence of what they termed “rape culture”—language that include blaming the victim, showing empathy for perpetrators, implying consent, and questioning the victim’s credibility.

Drawing on law enforcement records, the researchers found that rape incidents are more prominent in areas where the local press fosters less sympathetic attitudes towards victims. They did not appear to examine broadcast or online media.

“Does rape culture predict rape? In a word, yes,” wrote the authors.

“We find that where there is more rape culture in the press, there is more rape. In areas with more prevalent rape culture in the press, police receive more frequent reports of rape, but make fewer arrests in response.”

Moreover, they added, law enforcement in those areas make fewer arrests—and offenders are more likely to offend, and victims are less likely to report because they believe police officers, too, hold rape culture ideologies and thus would be less likely to pursue arrests.

The study found the most egregious evidence of rape culture in in counties in Minnesota, North Carolina, California, Iowa..

The authors argue that evidence of rape culture in the local news is a reflection of the community’s negative perception of sexual assault victims, and the study confirms assertions that some social norms can deter or even enable sexual violence.

“Our research can potentially help journalists and editors uncover implicit biases in their work, allow policymakers to gauge police responsiveness, activists to devise methods to reduce or mitigate sexual crime, and scholars to systematically investigate the causes and consequences of rape,” the authors write.

The authors write that though rape culture is a contributing factor, it does not completely explain differences in the incidence of rape across counties. Furthermore, only about 3 percent of the news articles analyzed contain any of the four components of rape culture, with the most common component being victim-blaming.

“That rape culture correlates with increases in documented rape cases reveals little about the direction of the relationship,” the authors observed. “Journalists may simply be less sensitive where rape is more common, or some other, unobserved factor may drive both local news content and sexual violence.”

The researchers argued that the media’s passive or hostile attitude towards rape cases was also a consequence of their commercial interests.

“If local news coverage of rape systematically features victim-blaming language, empathy for the accused, implications of consent, and incredulity toward victims, we can reasonably interpret such content as a noisy indicator of attitudes that local news consumers and journalists find normatively acceptable and commercially viable,” they wrote.

But they also warned against “over-interpreting” their findings.

“Our empirical strategy shows that rape culture in the media is a reliable local predictor of sexual crime, but these estimates do not represent a causal effect,” they wrote.

A copy of the study can be purchased here.

J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments are welcomed.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Cleveland Paper Deletes Names When Judge Seals Record

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is expanding its “right-to-be-forgotten” experiment, in which it has removed the names of five people from stories on its cleveland.com website about minor crimes they committed. “People should not have to pay for a mistake for the rest of their lives,” says Editor Chris Quinn.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is expanding its “right-to-be-forgotten” experiment, in which it has removed the names of five people from stories on its cleveland.com website about minor crimes they committed. One was someone in the health field who stole drugs from her employer. A judge eventually declared that she had completely rehabilitated herself. He sealed records of her crime so she could move on with her life. As she sought to begin a new career, any Google search of her name brought up our stories about her crime, along with her mug shot. Another was a man who stole some scrap metal years ago, completed his sentence and had his record sealed.

“People should not have to pay for a mistake for the rest of their lives,” wrote Editor Chris Quinn. Cleveland.com content appears high in search engines, meaning that if  a story about a minor crime often would be the first thing to appear in searches of a name. For the last two months, the newspaper has removed names from stories if the records of the crimes had been sealed by a judge and did not involve violence, sex crimes or public corruption. The paper has heard from people whose embarrassing stories were not based in the courts, or they were people who were peripheral to a crime story and never charged. No record existed for a judge to seal. Now, the newspaper is setting up a committee to consider requests for removing names from stories where search engines can find them. A committee is warranted because “we want to form a consensus with multiple viewpoints,” Quinn said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Texas Justice Reporter Ward Quits Over Sources

Mike Ward, Austin, Tx., bureau chief of the Houston Chronicle, many of whose criminal justice stories have been featured in Crime & Justice News, has resigned after some of his sources were questioned.

Mike Ward, Austin, Tx., bureau chief of the Houston Chronicle, many of whose criminal justice stories have been featured in Crime & Justice News, has resigned after some of his sources were questioned, writes Chronicle executive editor Nancy Barnes. Ward joined the Chronicle in 2014 after a long career with the Austin American-Statesman. Questions were raised about whether individuals quoted in one of his stories were real people. Chronicle researchers had difficulty finding a number of sources cited in Ward’s most recent reports, Barnes said.

Ward insisted that his work was truthful, that his work involved real people, and that we would eventually find the individuals behind his “man-on-the-street” interviews. However, given the questions this review raised, resigned last week. Barnes said, “We have hired an independent, highly respected journalist to review Ward’s work for the last year, or further, if necessary, and determine whether any reporting transgressions occurred.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Texas Justice Reporter Ward Quits Over Sources

Mike Ward, Austin, Tx., bureau chief of the Houston Chronicle, many of whose criminal justice stories have been featured in Crime & Justice News, has resigned after some of his sources were questioned.

Mike Ward, Austin, Tx., bureau chief of the Houston Chronicle, many of whose criminal justice stories have been featured in Crime & Justice News, has resigned after some of his sources were questioned, writes Chronicle executive editor Nancy Barnes. Ward joined the Chronicle in 2014 after a long career with the Austin American-Statesman. Questions were raised about whether individuals quoted in one of his stories were real people. Chronicle researchers had difficulty finding a number of sources cited in Ward’s most recent reports, Barnes said.

Ward insisted that his work was truthful, that his work involved real people, and that we would eventually find the individuals behind his “man-on-the-street” interviews. However, given the questions this review raised, resigned last week. Barnes said, “We have hired an independent, highly respected journalist to review Ward’s work for the last year, or further, if necessary, and determine whether any reporting transgressions occurred.”

from https://thecrimereport.org