News hole

Michigan Department of Corrections officials have grown very touchy — at least when it comes to certain newspaper investigations of former corrections staff touching women prisoners.

So touchy, it seems, that they won’t let any inmates — male or female, at any of the state’s 41 prisons and 10 low-level security camps — get their hands inky reading all about it.

Leo Lalonde, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections has confirmed to News Hits that the front sections of The Detroit News from Sunday, May 22, and Monday, May 23, were banned from all state-run correctional facilities.

On those days, The News featured a series of investigative reports involving sexual abuse of female inmates by prison guards at the Florence Crane and the now-closed Western Wayne correctional facilities. Although none of the offending employees is still with the department, Lalonde says one current corrections officer is mentioned by name in the Sunday and Monday papers.

Lalonde cites department policy, saying, "Mail that is known to contain personal information about an employee or an employee’s family may be held back. This includes information published in newspapers."

That, of course, is not the only reason. Unfortunately, we can’t provide any other justification the department used, because the department won’t disclose that info.

Sandra Girard, executive director of Prison Legal Services of Michigan, a nonprofit prison advocacy organization, sent a letter of complaint to assistant state attorney general Pete Govorchin on the matter.

"I think it’s really unconstitutional," she says.

Michael Steinberg, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, acknowledges that prisoners have fewer rights than other people. "The test is very different in prison for First Amendment protections," he says. Nonetheless, "prisoners don’t lose all constitutional rights when they’re incarcerated."

And while there may be security issues involved, "I don’t see how the security of the prison would be affected in this case," Steinberg adds.

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