Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Illinois DOC Capitulates On Prison Newspaper Ban

by John E. Dannenberg

The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) settled a publisher?s civil rights complaint challenging the arbitrary ban of Stateville Speaks, a nascent newspaper containing writings by IDOC prisoners. The IDOC amended its mail regulations regarding ?unacceptable publication? reviews (20 Ill. Adm. Code § 525.230) to provide advance censorship notice to the publishers and the right to file objections. Additionally, IDOC agreed to pay the plaintiff?s attorney fees of $15,000.

William Ryan, a retired director of Illinois? child protective services department and now a volunteer advocate for prisoners and their need for constructive outlets while incarcerated, resurrected the ten-year dormant Stateville State Prison newspaper by publishing Stateville Speaks.
Initially, he sponsored an essay contest for IDOC prisoners, 35 of whom submitted entries. A distinguished panel of community journalists evaluated the entries and found them so well done that Ryan compiled them into a book in 2004, Lockdown Prison Heart [profits from which went to a fund for reconciliation between victims of violent crimes and their perpetrators].

Encouraged by the essay response, Ryan met with IDOC administrator Barbara Hurt to gain approval to restart the Stateville newspaper inside the walls. After Hurt grumbled about publishing costs, Ryan gained donors to sponsor the paper. In December 2003, IDOC Chief of Operations Ian Oliver notified Ryan that Stateville Speaks had been approved. But one month later, after Oliver had left IDOC, Ryan was told by Oliver?s replacement, Sergio Molina, that IDOC had now reneged because of alleged added costs to guard prisoner newspaper workers outside of their cells.

By March 2004, Ryan privately printed two hundred copies of Stateville Speaks, containing constructive articles about the evils of drug use, self-improvement and religion, rehabilitation through therapy, poems about remorse and sorrow, and a social commentary on the injustice of racial discrimination and economic inequities. Ryan delivered copies to IDOC administrators and to the Governor of Illinois, asking for permission to distribute the paper to Stateville prisoners. Hearing no response in three weeks, Ryan mailed copies to five Stateville prisoners, with 100 more on his mailing list.

IDOC rejected the mailed copies and returned them to Ryan as ?unauthorized material.? Answering for the Governor, IDOC publications review committee manager Terri Anderson stated simply that ?major priorities at Stateville is [sic] the safe and secure operation of managing the Level 1 maximum security facility.? Five months later, after Ryan appealed to the committee, it rejected Stateville Speaks as containing material ?detrimental to security, good order, rehabilitation or discipline or it might facilitate criminal activity or be detrimental to mental health? (verbatim language from the then extant version of § 525.230(b)). Lacking any administrative appeal process to challenge this denial, Ryan sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Illinois Civil Rights Act, claiming First Amendment violations as to suppression of free speech and Due Process claims as to the lack of an appeals process to object to rejections.

In settling the suit in November 2006, IDOC revised § 525.320(c) to provide for written notice of rejection to the aggrieved prisoner and to the publisher within 30 days, after which time the prisoner may submit a supportive statement within seven days and the publisher may object within 21 days. Ryan was ably represented for two years by Chicago attorney Alan Mills of Uptown People?s Law Center. See: Ryan v. Walker, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.) Case No. 04 C 4635.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Ryan v. Walker