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Upcoming Speaker Series Presenter Files Lawsuit After Her Book Is Censored in Prisons

September 19, 2018, ABF news

Dr. Heather Thompson, a historian at the University of Michigan and an upcoming presenter for the American Bar Foundation (ABF) Speaker Series, recently had a lawsuit filed on her behalf by attorneys from the Uptown People’s Law Center and Sidley Austin LLP against the Illinois Department of Corrections. The lawsuit alleges that Thompson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Blood in the Water: The Attica Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy,” was censored from two Illinois prisons.

The book details events of the week-long prison uprising in 1971 at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York, which became one of the most famous and significant uprisings of the Prisoners’ Rights Movement. During the rebellion, nearly 1300 men fought for more humane living conditions and political rights. To shed light on the story of the uprising, Thompson uses interviews, transcripts, police reports and other documents that span 35 years from the event itself through the drawn-out legal battles that followed for subsequent decades.

Though Thompson sent the book to inmates at three prisons, it was censored by officials at two of the prisons. The lawsuit notes that because the book was censored at the Pontiac and Logan Correctional Centers but was allowed a third location, censorship was “arbitrarily applied.” It also alleges that the censorship violates Thompson's First Amendment right to communicate with incarcerated people and her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process, as she did not receive notice of the censoring of her book and had no opportunity to challenge it.

An article on the lawsuit from the Beachwood Reporter quotes Thompson as saying, “It is unconscionable that prisons forbid human beings on the inside to read any book, and I am determined to speak out on behalf of the First Amendment wherever it is being violated.”

In her presentation for the ABF Speaker Series on September 26 at noon, Thompson will dig into the history and analysis of the famed 1971 uprising and consider what the lessons from the uprising mean for the most recent swell of prisoner rights protests. She will also describe what those lessons mean for the roles that lawyers and non-lawyers alike must play in democracy.

To learn more about Thompson's upcoming lecture at the ABF on September 26, visit the event page here.

Posted by Whitney Peterson

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