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Prisoner Byline Rights

The Federal Bureau of Prisons decided that federal inmates publishing news articles under their own byline presented a “security risk.” A Federal Court in Colorado disagrees, and the First Amendment wins.

The government argued that inmates who act as reporters or publish under a byline could rise to undue prominence within the inmate population, thereby becoming a security risk. Also, the government was concerned that inmates could make a business out of it. (source)

My reaction to that is bull-pucky (to the security issue) and “so what?” (to the business issue). Apparently U.S. District Judge Marica Krieger agrees with me.

“No historical evidence that any inmate’s publications in the news media created such security problems were presented,” Krieger wrote in her ruling.

“The Court finds that the evidence is insufficient to correlate a bylined publication in the news media with the danger of an inmate conducting a business,” the judge wrote. “To the extent that there is a risk, the existing regulation prohibiting inmates from conducting a business is an easy and effective alternative to the regulation at issue.” (source)

There will certainly be shrill voices criticizing this decision – howling “what about the victims? This guy doesn’t deserve First Amendment rights!”

I’m not diametrically opposed to that kind of thinking, but I don’t really care about the inmate’s First Amendment rights, per se. I care about the First Amendment itself. Every time we tear a little hole in it, saying “well, this exception is okay,” then we risk destroying this guard at the gate of all other liberties.

(Hat tip to Andrew Contiguglia’s Entertainment Law Blog for bringing this story to my attention).

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