M.D.O.C. Reviewing Policies Amidst Censorship Claims

by Josh Colletta

After several recent news reports and a lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court over various cases of Michigan prisoners being denied their right to view harmless reading materials, the Michigan Department of Corrections is now saying they will review their mail policy and how it is applied at individual prisons.

The Associated Press reports that M.D.O.C. spokesman Chris Gautz acknowledged a case in which workers at the Ionia Correctional Facility blocked inmate access to news stories about criminal proceedings against a probation officer, prisoners’ parole and re-sentencing hearings, and a lawsuit filed by state prisoners — all while no other state facility banned those news stories.

According to Gautz, Corrections Department policy is to review mail for any material that may pose a safety concern or violate the privacy of prison staff. The mail policy also bans anything that promotes violence or racism, describes how weapons are manufactured, or contains nudity.

Gautz says at least two of the censored stories were considered by Ionia staffers to be in violation of those policies.

He admitted that Ionia’s staff seemed to be censoring far more material than other facilities, and that the purpose of statewide policies was to prevent such leeway for interpretation.

Michigan Press Association spokeswoman Lisa McGraw questioned the legality of the censorship under the First Amendment, stating that “one would think” that inmates “have a right to read the newspaper.”