Our View: Limiting the speech of prisoners is unconstitutional


CW Editorial Board

Does a mass murderer deserve the right to speak freely of the conditions he experiences in prison? What about a convicted pedophile? Depending on where you fall on the political spectrum, you are likely either quietly shaking your head no, or you are calling for the gallows. 

Now, what about the former accountant in prison for embezzlement, a white-collar crime? Nobody is arguing that his Constitutional rights as an American citizen should be stripped. So where do we draw the line? At what point does a criminal become so heinous in their actions that they aren’t allowed to speak?

The notion that an individual loses their ability to voice their opinions due to their prior convictions sets a dangerous precedent. Most would say that we shouldn’t listen to the murderer complain, but what if his complaint would reveal the corruption eating away at the core of our bureaucratic, profit-driven American prison system? Whenever we allow our government to silence those who have previously harmed society, we must ask ourselves what we really stand to gain. The only entity that benefits from this repression of basic human rights is the prison system.

The dangers of restricted speech need not be reiterated, but many would have you believe that these dangers don’t apply when its criminals who are silenced. But what is a criminal, really? Put simply, it’s someone who breaks the law. Laws, however, are not the morally objective guidebook to life that many prefer to think of them as. Laws are made by people, and people can be fallible, corrupt and agenda-driven.  If our laws are subjective, it would follow that the label of “criminal” has a certain level of subjectivity to it (We’re certainly not saying people should disregard laws, but we do want people to understand and acknowledge who makes those laws). That subjectivity is not left to the discretion of everyday citizens. Instead, we trust our government, the entity that stands to gain the absolute most from repressing dissenting speech, to determine whether or not someone is a criminal. 

In a recent story for The Crimson White regarding prisons, which can be found on page six, we were afforded a first-hand glimpse of how opaque our criminal justice system can be. Questions to be asked of prisoners required the advanced approval of the public relations official employed by the prison. We also have reason to believe that many of the prisoners interviewed for the story were coached, likely to improve the image of the prison. 

Can we, as a college newspaper, proclaim that these specific actions are unconstitutional? Until we hire a constitutional lawyer, the answer is no. We can, however, call for greater press access and greater transparency regarding the treatment of prisoners. The media is intended to serve as a check on the powers exercised by those who govern us. A lack of accountability to the press, coupled with the power of controlling every single aspect of a human being’s life, creates an environment that fosters the absolute corruption of our elected officials and degrades the democratic principles on which our country was founded. 

Should we continue giving power to those who stand to gain from mass incarceration and the suppression of any and all issues regarding the incredibly broken American prison system, it is only a matter of time before the subjectivity of our laws and rights becomes so apparent that even this column can be labelled as criminal. If this becomes the case, let’s just hope our cellmates are alright.