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PLN challenges publications ban at New Orleans jail

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2011.
Press release - PLN challenges publications ban at New Orleans jail 2011

PRESS RELEASE

Prison Legal News – For Immediate Release

September 9, 2011

Prison Legal News Files Censorship Suit Against Sheriff Gusman, Other Orleans Parish Jail Officials

New Orleans, LA – Prison Legal News (PLN), a non-profit monthly publication that reports on criminal justice-related issues and a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, today filed a federal lawsuit against Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman and a number of other Orleans Parish Prison officials, claiming improper censorship.

PLN’s suit alleges violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments at the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) and its related correctional facilities, including the House of Detention, Old Parish Prison, Templeman V and Conchetta.

According to PLN’s complaint, its monthly publication "is core protected speech, which is not objectionable on security or other grounds." PLN also distributes a number of books of interest to prisoners, including self-help books and materials that explain their legal rights.

From September 15, 2010 to the present, PLN sent its monthly publication and copies of a book entitled "Protecting Your Health and Safety" to 35 prisoners at OPP. However, pursuant to the jail’s policy, the publications mailed by PLN were censored and excluded. The Sheriff’s website specifies that "No books, magazines, newspapers or periodicals of any kind" are allowed to be mailed to prisoners.

Books from publishers are to be reviewed by each facility warden to determine whether the book is "acceptable." The policy provides no standards or criteria for censoring and excluding books, and books sent from distributors such as PLN are disallowed. Parish jail officials "are not making individualized determinations about the content of each publication before rejecting them in violation of clearly established First Amendment law," PLN claims.

According to PLN’s lawsuit, the only books available for prisoners to purchase through the jail commissary are the Bible, the Koran, a dictionary and ten mass market popular fiction novels which are described as "Best Seller 1," "Best Seller 2," etc. Books from genres such as criminal justice, self-help and civil and criminal legal rights, such as those offered by PLN, are excluded from the commissary list.

"Sheriff Gusman has plenty of problems on his plate right now," said PLN editor Paul Wright. "The jail continues to be under investigation for serious civil rights violations documented by the U.S. Department of Justice in a report released on September 11, 2009. The last thing the Sheriff should be doing is enforcing a policy that results in unconstitutional censorship in violation of the First Amendment, but that is exactly what’s happening."

PLN is seeking a declaration that the jail’s mail policy violates its rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees and costs. "We take our Constitutional rights seriously," said Wright.

PLN is represented by New Orleans attorneys Mary Howell, Elizabeth Cumming and John Adcock, and Human Rights Defense Center chief counsel Lance Weber. The case is Prison Legal News v. Gusman, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Case No. 11-cv-02277.

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Prison Legal News (PLN), founded in 1990 and based in Brattleboro, Vermont, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has almost 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents. PLN is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center.

For further information, please contact:

Paul Wright, Editor
Prison Legal News
P.O. Box 2420
Brattleboro, VT 05303
(802) 257-1342
pwright@prisonlegalnews.org


 


 

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