Rhode Island ACLU executive director Steven Brown issued the following statement today in response to news reports that Richard Hatch was arrested and is being held in jail for talking to members of the media about his tax evasion case without getting formal approval from the federal Bureau of Prisons:
“Although Richard Hatch remains under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Prisons until his sentence is completed, he retains certain fundamental constitutional rights. He is not in prison, but is living in the community on home confinement. While that sentence certainly entitles the BOP to limit Mr. Hatch’s physical movements, it should not give the agency the right to prevent him from using his vocal cords.
“Mr. Hatch has gone into court, as he has every right to do, to contest the validity of his conviction on tax evasion charges. The First Amendment similarly guarantees him the right to speak out on that court case, on his conviction and why he feels he has been wronged. Mr. Hatch should not need to seek permission from a federal bureaucrat to publicly respond to charges from a former public official that his allegations are ‘delusional.’ Nor, even more critically, should a person’s failure to seek such permission land him or her in prison.
“In sum, it is impossible to conceive of any legitimate penological basis for stifling Mr. Hatch’s efforts to speak about his own case. It is appalling that he would actually be sent to jail for engaging in quintessential free speech activity.
“It is important to understand the ramifications of the BOP’s action. If Mr. Hatch can be punished merely for speaking out about his case, he could just as easily be punished and jailed merely for speaking out against the Bureau of Prisons’ policies or practices. Such a limit on public discourse, even of an individual who has been convicted of a crime, is intolerable in a society that values and protects public discourse on important issues.”