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June 8, 2023, 2:56 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   June 8, 2023

Want to feel good about the power of journalism? Take a look at New York Focus, a nonprofit newsroom that looks at state policy. On Tuesday, reporter Chris Gelardi revealed a new policy that would have functionally banned journalism by incarcerated people inside prisons.

Last month, the agency [in charge of New York prisons] quietly handed down new rules severely curtailing what incarcerated writers and artists can publish — and forbidding them from getting paid for it.

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’s directive, which went into effect on May 11, establishes a stringent, months-long approval process for people in its custody to publish creative work, including books, art, music, poetry, film scripts, and other writing. It gives prison superintendents the power to block work from publication if it violates any of a number of broad rules — including bans on mentioning the artist or author’s crime and portraying DOCCS in a way that could “jeopardize safety or security.” And it stipulates that incarcerated people can’t be paid for their creative work without permission.

DOCCS didn’t seem to publicize the order: Neither Lennon nor watchdogs who spoke to New York Focus were aware of its existence, and it wasn’t posted to the department’s website until after New York Focus reached out for comment.

The directive is vaguely worded. The text makes no mention of journalism, for instance, but DOCCS confirmed to New York Focus that it applies to features, op-eds, and other works for journalistic outlets.

Important journalism about the importance of journalism! Well, there’s nothing better than important journalism about the importance of journalism having important impacts. A day later, state officials rescinded the policy as a result of New York Focus’ story and the attention it brought to bear.

The New York state prison agency rescinded rules blocking incarcerated writers and artists from publishing their work Wednesday, a day after New York Focus exposed the policy…

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision told New York Focus that it planned to apply the restrictions to journalism, which wasn’t mentioned in the directive. Incarcerated writers and watchdogs expressed concerns that the rules were meant to silence information-sharing and possibly violated the First Amendment…In a statement first reported by HuffPost and The Marshall Project, DOCCS claimed that the directive “is not being interpreted as the Department intended” and that “it was never our objective to limit free speech or creative endeavors.” New York Focus had given DOCCS multiple opportunities to clarify the scope of the directive in advance of the initial article…

“It’s a great thing,” said Freddy Medina, a writer who wrote and reported for New York Focus before he was released from prison in September. The rescindment means that DOCCS “knew they were doing something they weren’t supposed to,” he said.

According to Medina, in the leadup to the New York Focus article’s publication, the policy had “created a buzz” among incarcerated people he’s in touch with.

He emphasized what a blow the directive would have been to many still on the inside. “You’re not only silencing voices,” he said. “You’re taking away everything.”

Consider this post important journalism about the important impact of important journalism on the importance of journalism.

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