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California Parolee Gag Order Lifted

The California Department of Corrections (CDC) admits it made a mistake when one of its agents tossed a parolee in jail for refusing to sign off on a parole condition banning him from talking to the media.

Arthur Putney, 52, was jailed after parole officials presented him with the no-media-contact parole condition which he refused to accept

"I can't speak to anyone in the press?" Putney said. "What are they hiding?"

Putney had previously contacted reporters on numerous occasions to tell them about his lawsuit pending against the CDC. The suit targets officials at Avenal State Prison who Putney accuses of falsely labeling him as a Black Guerilla Family prison gang recruiter and then confining him to administrative segregation for 13 weeks.

Deputy Regional Parole Administrator Ed Elmer said he was unaware of Putney's lawsuit and that it was not a factor in the parole condition placed on Putney by his south Sacramento parole officer.

"That condition of parole is inappropriate," Elmer told the Sacramento Bee October 13, 1998. "He will be on the streets today."

First Amendment activists think there is still a big problem, that it is not an unprecedented act but merely a chilling extension of the state's ban on face-to-face interviews with prisoners, and that it is the latest manifestation of state power trying to stop the flow of prison information to the public.

"The department's habit, its practice of preventing or discouraging inmates from contact with the news media has become instinctual," said Peter Sussman, past president of the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. "Even when there is no reason for it, their first response is to shut them up. [Putney's case] shows the dangerous degree to which this practice has hardened."

Terry Francke, general counsel of the California First Amendment Coalition said, "I wonder if this [type of parole condition] isn't being done more than we realize."

Sacramento Bee

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