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Justice 101: Does the First Amendment Apply in Prisons?

February 22, 2024, 2:00 pm – 2:45 pm

Justice 101: Does the First Amendment Apply in Prisons?

This event took place from 2 pm – 2:45 pm Eastern Time on Thursday, February 22, 2024.

Click here to watch a recording of the conversation.
Click here for a transcript of the conversation.

Virtual Program. Free.

This program explores the intersection of prison journalism and First Amendment rights, specifically focusing on the question of whether the First Amendment applies in prisons. The session delves into the limits of freedom of speech within the prison system, using examples such as social media posts that implicate individuals, using social media as evidence in court, and instances of prisons censoring media produced by incarcerated people. The discussion also touches upon issues like phone and book bans in prison and the controversial scanned mail service in Pennsylvania.

To enrich the conversation, this program will feature a panel with notable individuals in the field, including Jesse Vasquez, Evan Bianchi, and moderator Damon McCool. Learn more about this month's speakers in their biographies below. The aim is to provide insights into the challenges and complexities surrounding exercising First Amendment rights within the unique context of the prison environment.

About the Speakers:

Jesse Vasquez looks into the camera with a slight smile.Jesse Vasquez serves as Executive Director for the Pollen Initiative, a nonprofit organization advancing transformational, incarcerated-run multimedia programs. He was incarcerated as a juvenile and spent almost 19 years in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation until former Governor Jerry Brown commuted his sentence. Since his release in 2019, he has volunteered in various high schools to help teens understand their options and opportunities in spite of their environmental surroundings.

Evan Bianchi looks into the camera.Evan Bianchi is an attorney at Wiggin and Dana LLP in New York City. As a member of the firm’s Appellate Practice Group, he has briefed appeals in federal and state courts across the country, including in matters involving the First Amendment, criminal sentencing, and the rights of incarcerated persons. Evan previously worked at Selendy & Gay PLLC, where he litigated a wide variety of appellate and trial matters. He has published scholarship on the application of the First Amendment in prisons.

Damon McCool smiles at the camera while leaning on a railing in one of the cellblocks of Eastern State Penitentiary.Damon McCool is the Senior Specialist of Research and Public Programming at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, a museum interpreting the legacy of American criminal justice reform from the site of the world’s first penitentiary.

About the Justice 101 Series:
Justice 101 is a new series brought to you by the Center for Justice Education at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site where we examine the history of the justice system in America from our founding to today and the impact it has on our society, citizens, and world.

Once a month, we invite special guests to foster dialogue about a different topic in criminal justice. Justice 101 programs take place virtually via Zoom, and each is 45 minutes long (30-minute program plus 15-minute Q&A). You can join us live at the times listed, or watch the programs back anytime on YouTube.

Click here for a full list of upcoming Justice 101 programs.

2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner