September 24, 2001 01:45am
Prison Officials Push Magazine Ban
by: Steve LeBlanc
(BOSTON, MA) -- Hardcore pornography is already banned in Massachusetts prisons, and now corrections officials want to extend that ban to Playboy, Penthouse and almost any other publication featuring nudity.
Officials say they are making the change because they fear sexually explicit material ``desensitizes'' inmates and makes them more likely to engage in inappropriate sexual conduct around staff.
The material also makes it harder to treat prisoners convicted of sex crimes, Department of Corrections spokesman Justin Latini said.
Latini said the a U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) decision last year encouraged prison officials to institute the new ban. The ruling rejected the claim of an Arizona inmate who said a ban on Playboy violated his rights.
Still, free speech activists say the move treads on the First Amendment rights of prisoners.
``It's simply a way to be tough on prisoners. It's politically popular,'' said Kara Gotsch, public policy coordinator for the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites).
``Just because you are locked up doesn't mean you lose all your rights. And your First Amendment right is one you should maintain,'' she said.
Other states have already cracked down on inmates' access to sexually explicit publications. Oregon, Minnesota and South Dakota have all passed laws in recent years barring adult materials from prisons.
Within Massachusetts, some inmates are already blocked from receiving magazines featuring nudity.
At the Bristol County House of Correction, Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson initiated a policy against the magazines, saying they are inappropriate in a jail setting.
``When you're in prison, the reality is that you don't have the opportunity to enjoy the same rights that law abiding citizens do,'' he said. ``If you want to read those kinds of magazines, leave the people in your neighborhood alone and stay out of jail.''
State prison regulations now say that ``publications may not be excluded solely because they contain sexually explicit material or feature nudity,'' and that ``explicit heterosexual material will ordinarily be admitted.''
The proposed regulations would rescind those rules, but still allow ``material illustrative of medical, educational, or anthropological content.''
William Lyon of the Free Speech Coalition, the trade association of the nation's $12-billion-a-year adult entertainment industry, calls the proposed ban ``stupid.''
``If you want to control the libido of a lot of men who are incarcerated in order to stop them from getting a little too feisty, why would you keep this kind of material from them?'' he said. ``If they are sexually satisfied, they are not going to be as rebellious.''
But the proposed policy, the subject of a public hearing next month, is getting the backing of some elected officials.
Republican state Rep. Francis Marini pushed a successful ballot initiative last year that denied prisoners voting rights. He said sexually explicit materials have no place in prison.
``Those things are titillating and tend to arouse the passions,'' he said. ``It's like the advice I got when I was a kid. Take a cold shower and keep active to divert your mind from thoughts of a sexual matter.''