The Michigan Department of Corrections is reviewing how its mail policy is applied after inmates at a state prison were prevented from reading five news articles published by the Lansing State Journal.
Workers at the Ionia Correctional Facility blocked inmate access to the five stories this year concerning criminal proceedings against a probation officer, prisoners' parole and re-sentencing hearings and a lawsuit filed by state prisoners. The reports were not blocked at any other state facility, department spokesman Chris Gautz said.
Gautz told The Journal prison workers are allowed to interpret the department's mail policy to ensure only allowed material gets through to inmates. Gautz said the department's mail policy is supposed to keep prisons safe and MDOC workers' personal lives private. The policy also bars mail that promotes violence or racism, describes the manufacturing of weapons, or content that contains nude images.
A story about inmates at Women's Huron Valley prison pursuing a class-action lawsuit against MDOC after a scabies outbreak was considered a threat to the security, order and discipline at the prison, a facilitation or encouragement of criminal activity, or interference with the rehabilitation of a prisoner.
Another article about probation officer Shalimar Howard being cleared of felony perjury charges was blocked because it included personal information about an employee or employee's family.
Gautz said the department is reviewing how prison workers apply the mail policy, and he acknowledged the inconsistencies throughout state facilities.
"If it appears as though one facility is blocking way more things than other facilities, and (only some prisoners) are allowed to see it, that's certainly something we should look into," he said. "The reason why we have statewide policies is so they can be enacted and used statewide and used uniformly around the state. There shouldn't be that much interpretation."
Lisa McGraw, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Press Association, questioned why the barred stories were considered unfit for inmates' eyes, noting that censorship is a First Amendment issue.
Inmates "have a right to read the newspaper, one would think," McGraw said.