The warden of Maryland’s Eastern Correctional Institution banned a newsletter from the Mississippi-based white supremacist group Nationalist Movement after he saw in it a cartoon of a black woman drawn to resemble an ape. Next to her, a white man in a suit makes a racist remark about her hair, says the Baltimore Sun. “You have a very diverse population behind prison walls and, if this were to get out, it could pose some sort of a security issue, if people get their feathers ruffled over it,” said a prison spokeswoman.
The ban prompted a legal threat from the newsletter’s editor, who says prisoners have the constitutional right to read what they want, even if that publication quotes skinheads. The Maryland attorney general’s office agreed, ordering the prison to lift the ban. The warden now will review each edition of the newsletter. Maryland gives prison officials room to determine the appropriateness of materials. For example, a letter or document cannot describe escape plans or the construction or use of weapons ammunition, bombs or other devices designed to inflict bodily harm. It cannot offer a how-to guide for brewing alcoholic beverages. It shouldn’t be sexually explicit or advocate the formation of inmate unions. David Fathi of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project said prisons do not have the right to ban a publication in perpetuity. “Publications should never be excluded because they advocate unpopular ideas,” Fathi said. “The exclusion should be restricted to publications that actually advocate violence.”