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Articles by David M. Shapiro

Sentenced to Shut Up: To Protect Free Expression, Curb Prison Censorship

By David M. Shapiro, Truthout

If Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" were written in 2017, the missive might not have made it out of the jail and into history. Today, too many American prisons and jails saddle the people they lock up with senseless restrictions on their ability to speak, write, and receive information.

Taken together, these constraints stifle free debate and exchange with people in prison at a crucial moment in history. We cannot have a serious conversation about criminal justice and mass incarceration if prisoners are shut out of public discussion.

A prison in Alabama last month was banning an historic African American newspaper as a "racially motivated" publication. As a civil rights lawyer and law professor, I often encounter such needless speech restrictions affecting prisoners.

In Virginia, a mother whose son was jailed wrote him letters that at times quoted from the Bible. She would cut and paste passages from an online copy of the Bible into her letters. Jail officials, however, cut out the biblical passages with a hobby knife, delivering to the son a Swiss cheese of letters with holes where the bible quotations had been. 

The reasons for rejection were listed variously as "Internet material" and "religious material from home." ...