After explaining the intricacies of the prison adjudication process last month I was unsure which PSI to delve into next. I toyed with the idea of following up with the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme since this is often used as a secondary disciplinary measure (despite stating in itself that it is separate and distinct from the disciplinary system), but then the answer fell right into my lap. A fellow blogging prisoner (who I cannot name for reasons which will become clear) tried to send out a letter containing his latest posts for his people to put online for him, but it was stopped by security. This directly contradicts not just the Prison Service Instruction on prisoner communications, but also the one on access to the media. So it is this PSI I will focus on today, with specific focus on blogging in particular.
The reason security first gave this prisoner for refusing to allow him to send his post out was that it was derogatory to the security department. This has since been amended to say that two sections of the post could be deemed to be defamatory. Let me say, I have read the post and (in my opinion) there is nothing of either description. Furthermore, having read other posts he has written, I can say that he has written far worse things about other prison departments and yet the only time he has ever had a post stopped is when it criticises the security department. You can draw your own conclusions but some might see this as an abuse of power. However, even if there was something derogatory or defamatory about his post, that would not be reason enough to prohibit him sending it out and publishing it online.
The PSI states that prisoners can communicate with the media in three ways: by written correspondence, by telephone, and by visit. It further says that “Prisoners do not need permission […] to send or receive letters from the media but there are restrictions on what can be sent out.” These restrictions are that “Correspondence which is intended for publication or for use by radio or television or for posting on the Internet” [which is why this is the section to be looked at in relation to blogging] “[…] must not contain material which:
is for publication in return for payment […];
is about the prisoner’s own crime or past offences or those of others, except where it consists of serious representations about conviction or sentence or forms part of serious comment about crime, the processes of justice or the penal system;
refers to individual prisoners or members of prison staff in such a way that they might be identified [hence why I cannot name the blogger in question];
is likely to appear in a publication associated with a person or organisation to whom the prisoner may not write […]; or
contravenes any of the other restrictions on content applying to letters in [the communications PSI].”
Well, neither he nor I are subject to any restrictions on who we may write to and the other restrictions on content of letters in the communications PSI add nothing of any relevance to blogging, so both the fourth and fifth points can be disregarded. In respect of the first three points, neither he nor I have ever attempted to make any money from blogging and nor have we written about prisoners or staff in such a way as they may be identified. He has written about his offence, but only in the context of his appeal against conviction as someone maintaining his innocence, which the second point above allows for. Since I am not an appellant and nothing I intend to say about the justice system necessitates writing about my own offence or anyone else’s, I do not share his right to blog about this subject, so I have been careful not to. My right to continue blogging is one I value highly and I am all too aware that it could be taken away very easily if I breached any of the rules above – so I don’t.
However, the point here is that none of the restrictions set out in the PSI include a ban on anything derogatory or defamatory. Yes, defamation is illegal, as part of libel. But defamation cannot be defined by a third party. For example, I could not claim that the Daily Mail has defamed the prime minister, a fellow prisoner, or even a member of my own family. The individual themselves has to claim defamation. And likewise, the prison service cannot claim defamation on the part of an individual member of staff who is not named or in any way identified. Defamation does not apply.
The only remaining restriction is where prisoners are permitted to publish their writing online. In the communications PSI it is expressly forbidden for prisoners to contribute either directly or indirectly to any social networking site, and Facebook in particular. However, previous court cases have deemed both blogs and Twitter to be “new media” and not social networking sites at all. This is why the only relevant rules are those governing access to the media, and none of them legally permit this prison’s security department to prevent my fellow blogger from posting what he has written online. The action they have taken is outside of their powers (ultra vires in legal terms) and contrary to the PSIs. It is therefore unlawful. But it isn’t the first time. They tried to stop Ben Gunn. But he fought them and he won. I believe the tried to stop Noel ‘Razor’ Smith once too. And they tried to stop me when I first started. But like others before me, I fought them and I won. Now they are trying to stop someone else And (in my personal opinion) it has nothing to do with derogatory or defamatory comments but simply because what he has written is embarrassing. Well it will he far more embarrassing when he wins too and not only will they have to allow him to post what he wants, they will also have to let him publicly highlight their attempts to keep him quiet.
[Site Administrator: Adam can’t tell you who this blogger is but as administrator I am allowed to link to them. Read their blog here.)