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PLN prevails in Kansas DOC gift subscription suit on remand from 10th Circuit

Hutchinson News, Jan. 1, 2007. http://www.hutchnews.com/Localregional/inmateri...
PLN prevails in Kansas DOC gift subscription suit on remand from 10th Circuit - Hutchinson News 2007

Limits on inmate subscriptions ruled illegal

By John Green - The Hutchinson News - jgreen@hutchnews.com

A federal judge ruled this week that Kansas Department of Corrections' restrictions on how much an inmate can spend on subscriptions for reading materials and a prohibition on receiving gift subscriptions were both unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Monti L. Belot, in an opinion issued Monday, also ordered that when publications are censored or rejected at a state prison, the KDOC must send a notice to both the prisoner and the publisher that sent the reading material.

Prison Legal News, a Seattle-based company that publishes a monthly newsletter covering criminal justice and corrections-related issues, filed the suit in 2002, arguing the policies impinged on prisoners' First Amendment rights to receive reading materials as well as its right to distribute its publications.

Another judge originally dismissed the suit in April 2003, but the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed that decision and remanded it to the Wichita court in December 2004. The case went to a bench trial before Judge Belot in February.

KDOC policies prohibited prisoners from receiving gift subscriptions purchased by friends or family members on grounds of "security concerns" and that it would negatively impact the prison's privilege and incentive system. Inmates were instead required to pay for all publications from their prison trust accounts, and the amount they could spend was capped at $40.

Deputy Secretary of Corrections Charles Simmons testified requiring prisoners to use their accounts to buy subscriptions allowed the prison to track the money, but that gift subscriptions could be used by other inmates as a form of "extortion or strong-arming, debt collection, or trafficking of contraband."

Belot found "no rational and valid connection" for either claim, pointing out inmates testified items from the prison canteen "are frequently used for strong-arming," yet KDOC policies allow some inmates to spend $180 a month on canteen items.

"Witness Simmons testified that there is no limitation on handicraft materials because those items frequently exceed $40," Belot wrote in the opinion. "However, there are many subscriptions and legal books that exceed $40 as well. While KDOC may want to encourage arts and crafts, the court does not comprehend why KDOC does not want to encourage, and in actuality limits, an inmate spending time reading and gaining knowledge."

Lawrence-based attorneys Bruce Plenk and Maxwell Kautsch represented PLN in the case.


 


 

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