PHOENIX (AP) _ A federal judge has ordered the Arizona Department of Corrections to stop enforcing a policy prohibiting inmates from corresponding with, or appearing on, Web sites.
U.S. District Judge Earl Carroll granted an injunction request Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union to stop enforcement of the law, which is the subject of a pending lawsuit.
``Putting free speech behind bars simply because it concerns prisoners sets a dangerous precedent,'' said Arizona ACLU attorney David Fathi. ``The court's decision makes clear that Arizona may not jail the Internet.''
The statute, passed by the Legislature in 2000, makes it a misdemeanor for an inmate to communicate with Internet service providers, send a letter to a Web site or to a third party who then forwards it to a Web site or publishes it for the inmate.
Inmates can lose privileges, good-behavior credits or face other punishment for violations, corrections officials said.
In his ruling, Carroll wrote that protecting the First Amendment is a ``compelling public interest.''
Department of Corrections Chief of Staff Gary Phelps said the law is necessary because inmates use the Internet to defraud the public, contact minors and even plan escapes.
An increasing number of prisoners are going online to post their stories on Web sites.
Debra Jean Milke, the only woman on the state's death row, has a site proclaiming her innocence and soliciting donations for her defense. She was sentenced to die for having her 4-year-old son killed before Christmas 1989.