Court: Prisoners Can Access Internet Materials

Rhett Pardon
SAN FRANCISCO - It's tough to be a prisoner, but why shouldn't the electronic age come to penitentiaries?

Why shouldn't prisoners be able to browse XBiz or the New York Times online edition? Or check email? How about just a photocopy of the email?

After all, it is the 21st century.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld an injunction that ruled the California Department of Corrections must allow access to electronically generated mail while incarcerated.

The free-speech case involved a rule at Pelican Bay that banned prisoners from receiving letters that contain any material downloaded and printed from the Internet, including hard copies of email messages.

Pelican Bay, which houses maximum-security prisoners under the most restrictive conditions of any prisons in the state, adopted a new policy in 2001, plainly stating: No Internet mail.

San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) hailed the ruling Tuesday and said that the rule denied access to valuable information simply because it originated online.

EFF filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case on behalf of Prison Legal News, whose subscribers, as well as most of its writers, are currently incarcerated.

"Organizations with important information for prisoners, such as the advocacy group Stop Prisoner Rape, can only afford to publish online," EFF spokesman Lee Tien said.

The case is Frank S. Clement v. California Department of Corrections, No. 03-15006.