A federal judge on Thursday ordered federal prison officials to allow inmates to write bylined newspaper articles for pay and to stop retaliating against a prisoner who wrote an article criticizing a warden.
U.S. District Judge Charles Legge said he was persuaded that the inmate whose transfer started the case, Dannie Martin, posed “no threat to safety or order within the institution” by his writing, and was being punished only for the content of his articles in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Legge issued a nationwide preliminary injunction prohibiting the Bureau of Prisons from enforcing seldom-used rules that forbid federal prisoners from receiving pay or using bylines when writing for newspapers and other outside publications.
Others Allowed to Write
He said officials had allowed many prisoners to write articles or books for pay and had failed to show that enforcement of the ban, against Martin or anyone else, would promote safety or any other valid concern in running the prisons.
He also said a rule that prohibits inmates from running businesses in prison cannot be enforced against writers. The injunction is binding until Martin’s suit on the issue goes to trial.
Since the case arose, Martin has been transferred from a California federal prison to a prison near Phoenix. The Chronicle asked Legge to return Martin to California, where his observations would have more value for the newspaper’s readers; the judge said he was uncertain about security and space considerations, and asked the lawyers to consult one another.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Sandra Willis said she was surprised by the ruling and particularly by Legge’s refusal to rule out damage awards against prison officials involved in Martin’s case. She said no decision has been made on an appeal.
Martin, 48, began serving a 33-year sentence for bank robbery in 1981. He started sending articles to the Chronicle about two years ago on his observations about prison life and conditions at the federal prison in Lompoc, where he was then confined.
This June, he was placed in solitary confinement three days after the Chronicle ran his article criticizing Lompoc’s new warden, R. H. Rison. Martin was transferred twice in the next two weeks, the second time to his current location near Phoenix.
His suit, joined by the Chronicle, contended both that Martin was being treated unfairly and that the regulations prohibiting bylined and paid articles by prisoners violated constitutional freedom of expression.
Martin’s lawyer, Jeffrey Leon, urged Legge to lift the restrictions “so that he (Martin) can fulfill himself and so that the public can receive information about the workings of the federal prison system.”
Regulation Not Enforced
He said the parole board had told Martin that his writing was improving his chances of an early release.
Until Martin wrote a critical article, Leon said, prison officials had not enforced the regulation against him.
Willis, the government’s lawyer, declared, “This is not a censorship case,” and he argued that the ban on bylined and paid outside articles was justified by security considerations. “You can’t control an inmate who has his own money,” Willis said.
But Legge said other prisoners had been allowed to earn money and there was substantial evidence that the actions against Martin were based on the content of his writings.