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July 15, 2008

Should those on death row have personalized Web pages?

This Los Angeles Times article, headlined "Reaching out from death row," covers the interesing issue of the correspondence and web presence of prisoners on Califorinia's death row.  Here are snippets:

Prisoners are barred from direct computer access that officials say could allow them to threaten witnesses or orchestrate crimes.  Thanks to supporters and commercial services, however, many of the state's 673 condemned inmates now have pen-pal postings and personalized Web pages with their writings, artwork and photos of themselves -- often accompanied by declarations of innocence and pleas for friendship and funds.

Although some inmates utilize sites in the U.S., the nonprofit Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty has created Web pages or pen-pal ads for more than 100 California death row inmates.  The site, unlike some others, is free. Prisoners' mail privileges "make it virtually impossible to stop stuff from going out . . ." said Lt. Eric Messick, litigation coordinator at San Quentin. "That is how things get posted."

Since the mid-1990s, when a condemned inmate's column called "Deadman Talkin' " appeared online, use of the Internet by prisoners has proliferated in California and elsewhere.  While civil libertarians applaud the development as the exercise of free speech by isolated people, victims' rights activists decry it as an unnecessary affront to the loved ones of those whose suffering led society to lock up these prisoners.

July 15, 2008 at 08:25 AM | Permalink


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Not the Usual Suspects: The Politics of the Prison Boom

Governmental organizations were not the only ones that exploited the victims issue to promote hard-line penal poli-cies. So did many law-enforcement groups. For example, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the state’s powerful prison guards’ union, provided office space and virtually all the funding for the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau (renamed the Crime Victims Action Alliance), a fierce advocate of three-strikes legislation and other tough measures.

Posted by: | Jul 15, 2008 11:48:57 AM

I listen to Mumia's podcast several times a week, and very much enjoy hearing his perspectives on world events that he cannot actively participate in. While I probably agree with him about 50% of the time, it is always enjoyable and often challenging listening to his views.

Posted by: D | Jul 15, 2008 1:49:34 PM

We've got some TX death row inmate pages, too, fwiw.

Since I'm unaware of any jurisdiction where inmates themselves have internet access, all such pages are prepared and maintained by third parties on the inmates' behalf. (Similarly, inmates can be prohibited from profiting from accounts of their own crimes, but a true crime writer can profit from it.) As such, it's those outsiders' free speech rights which would be directly implicated by a ban, not the offenders'. Under such circumstances, I can see no method of disallowing websites dedicated to individual inmates.

As such, I disagree with victim rights advocates who say these pages are an "unnecessary affront." In fact, they are a necessary affront, at least if you support free speech for free worlders, because banning them would do more precedential harm than prohibiting them could ever prevent.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jul 15, 2008 2:25:38 PM

D, and you admit it?

Posted by: federalist | Jul 15, 2008 4:40:00 PM

It's incredible that the rights of death row inmates are constantly thrown away. While it's probably not unreasonable for the state to moniter the communications of death row inmates so that the innocent aren't threatened, to deny them the right of communicating with the outside is egregious.

Posted by: JT | Jul 15, 2008 5:24:00 PM

It's incredible that the rights of death row inmates are constantly thrown away.

Exactly. Sometimes they're even executed, too.

Posted by: | Jul 15, 2008 5:47:26 PM


Why wouldn't I? I also enjoy reading the writings of other political prisoners.

Posted by: D | Jul 15, 2008 11:46:49 PM


Does not say anything about not 'unnecessarily affronting' anyone.


Posted by: Dr Nigel Leigh Oldfield | Jul 16, 2008 12:45:34 AM


Mumia was convicted of the cold-blooded murder of a Philadelphia policeman. This was many years ago. His case has been reviewed by state and federal courts again and again, and his conviction stands.

In what sense does his incarceration for this murder make him a "political prisoner"?

Is gunning down a policeman a legitimate means of political protest? I would think not, but if you disagree, where do you draw the line? Is a member of a political (or racial) minority entitled to murder a policeman simply because he IS a policeman? How about blowing up the station house?

Speaking of which: Do you think Timothy McVeigh was a victim of ruling class prejudice, or did his prosecution and sentence relate instead to the fact that he committed mass murder?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 16, 2008 8:14:39 AM

Bill, I agree. McVeigh and other veterans (who, like Arab terrorists received training on how to kill abroad) were justly punished. We need to be on alert for people like McVeigh. The warning signs are all there: 1) training abroad; 2) military service; and 3) lack of a law school education. If there ever was a case to be made for profiling at airports, this is it.

(PS: I never asserted that McVeigh was a victim of class prejudice. The above post wasn't mine. But now that you mention it, I see how much of a threat his class is is to real Americans.)

Posted by: S.cotus | Jul 16, 2008 11:48:59 AM

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