Missouri Prisons Ban Article on the Death Penalty

The death penalty has been a controversial topic lately, especially in the wake of a horrific botched execution in Ohio. It’s no surprise that news organizations across the country are talking about capital punishment and exploring whether it’s really a good fit for the United States. In Missouri’s prison system, however, prisoners won’t have access to those discussions, because prison officials are censoring an issue of St. Louis Magazine over a story on the death penalty.

Access to reading material in prisons is highly unreliable. Prisoners are only allowed to receive books, magazines, newspapers and other print materials from preapproved sources (including a vetted library), and all their incoming packages are checked to see if contraband material is included. When it comes to reading material, contraband can include a variety of subjects, depending on the policy of the prison, but often involves sexual or seditious material, coverage of the death penalty, discussions of prison conditions and prisoners’ rights activism, and more. Prison censorship, and challenges to same, is a common problem in U.S. prisons that advocates report is getting worse.

Some of this may be due to shifting social attitudes in the United States, which has become a much more active surveillance culture in the last decade, and has also cracked down on mandatory sentencing laws and additional regulations for prisons and penal environments. It may also be the result of the increasing corporate management of prisons, with much of the industry being privatized and run on a for-profit basis. Prisons using standardized censorship procedures may hope to shelter themselves from lawsuits and challenges, but this tactic can also backfire.

The St. Louis Magazine feature covered an execution and discussed how Missouri has returned to the execution business. It’s a stark, moving piece, serving as an indictment of the death penalty and the larger prison system itself. William Powell, the article’s author, wrote a letter to prison officials after learning of the ban: “St. Louis Magazine has a great deal of respect for the work done by corrections personnel, and we understand the paramount importance of maintaining safety within the offender population. However, we do not agree that the May 2014 issue would ‘instill violence or hatred.’ Further, the article regarding Missouri’s death penalty contains information pertinent to offenders, especially those on death row. We believe they should have the right to read it.”

He argues that the article, tracing the last day of a condemned man, was an example of transparency about the death penalty in a state where much of the process is shrouded in secrecy. Missouri has used a variety of tactics to anonymize execution teams, sources of drugs used in executions and other facets of the execution process, which raises important questions about prisoner rights. In Ohio, where the process was similarly secretive, a prisoner suffered an extremely agonizing death after being denied access to information about the drugs that would be used in his execution, illustrating the value of transparency.

Notably, multiple media sources are suing the state over its lack of transparency in the execution process, pushing the state to open up records for the benefit of the public as well as inmates. 2014 may turn out to be a year in which the push for transparency in capital punishment reaches a tipping point, forcing states to rethink their administration of the death penalty.

Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar.

55 comments

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson1 years ago

What would have happened if the victims were able to speak. Our laws victimizes the victim over and over.

Marc P.
Marc P.2 years ago

I actually undertand the mindset of people like Maxine S. and Syd H. You see, the fact is tha they are gutless cowards. So afraid of our current system that they fel like they have to echo an extremist view in order to "Protect" themselves from being victimized by it. This is called Stockholm Syndrome. Any psychologist that practices in the field of criminal psychiatric sciences will tell you that the mindset of people like Syd and Maxine mirror that of the average sociopathic/psychopathic criminal. Both have no regard for human life. Both exhibit no negative emotions regarding the suffering of another human being, both relish in the thought of someone agonizing in pain and misery. And most poignantly, both make excuses and rationalize these thought processes. This is Text book!

Charlene Rush
Charlene Rush2 years ago

To Syd H.:
What type of human being are you, or did I misuse the word 'human'?
Who ever told you that torturing anyone, was a proper method of conduct?

Reading material is not what any intelligent thinking person would call a reward or make prison life enjoyable.. In fact, it may teach the prisoner something about life that he/she needs to learn upon release. If you are incapable of comprehending rehabilitation, there is no hope for you.
Add to that, people in charge of the justice system should dispense 'justice' not revenge, which is what the death penalty consists of. No human has the right to take someone else's life, regardless of the offense. If you do, you are no better than the offfender.

If you are a Christian, then you should know, that is god's work, not yours, mine or anyone else's. Since, you probably are not a Christian, I won't waste my time reciting bible verses to you.
Amazingly,_ many of us_ on this site are not Christians and even we know that.

william Miller
william Miller2 years ago

it is time to quit killing people

Fi T.
Fi T.2 years ago

Workable?

Charlene Rush
Charlene Rush2 years ago

Perhaps, they can ban the subject inside the prison, but not outside.

Nikolas K.
Nikolas K.2 years ago

Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone or inject the poison or push the button and take this persons life.

Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia2 years ago

I agree with Joanne D and Lisa L. Lisa's post is extremely well articulated.
There are people who still think hard core criminals should be ASSASINATED and even made to suffer. In doing that they are willing to pay tax money to have executioners do that and in the process turn them into criminals. No one here is saying that people who have committed heinous crimes should lead a good life. Life in jail is pretty hard. They should work for part of what they get but treating them humanely is something you do to preserve your own humanity. If you can't see that ask yourself what you learned in childhood about your own worth as a person. It looks like some people were made to feel like trash and learned very early being cruel is the norm.

Joanne Dixon
Joanne Dixon2 years ago

I also agree with William Powell, and with Lisa L. A couple of the commenters here sound like they would be right at home as concentration camp guards. I would wish for them a life like the one they wish for prisoners. No doubt they would scream they are innocent. So are many prisoners.

Marc P.
Marc P.2 years ago

It is now standard practice to ban books in prison. The claim is that it is for "Safety and Security." The claim is Bull. The sole reason is to add yet one more torture to the system. As I have stated before, I work in prison activism. I have perused many publications that have been banned. Without exception they are in themselves harmless. A good example is that I read a Maxim magazine article that was banned only to discover that the topic of the "questionable material" was about a nurse that used specific knowledge about a certain sedation drug that can ONLY be found in hospital operating rooms and hospital keepsafes, to kill someone. So basically, unless you are a O.R. nurse that has specific access to a tightly controlled drug only available in hospital operating rooms you can't kill anyone this way. Oh yeah. The story was all about how she got caught.