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PLN files censorship suit against Florida DOC

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2011.
Press release - PLN files censorship suit against Florida DOC 2011

ACLU, Florida Justice Institute Sue Florida Department of Corrections over Censorship

FEDERAL SUIT ON BEHALF OF PRISON LEGAL NEWS SEEKS TO BLOCK DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS FROM VIOLATING CONSTITUTION BY BARRING INMATES FROM RECEIVING LEGAL PUBLICATIONS

November 17, 2011
CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office
(786) 363-2737 or media@aclufl.org

MIAMI – The ACLU of Florida (ACLUFL) and the Florida Justice Institute today filed a federal law suit on behalf of Prison Legal News (PLN), a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) for preventing Florida inmates from receiving publications about their legal rights.

According to the complaint, filed in the District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami, FDOC violated the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of PLN by refusing to deliver their monthly publication – Prison Legal News – to inmates at DOC facilities. The publication contains writings from legal scholars, attorneys, prisoners, and news wire services about legal news in prison situations.

"When the government blocks information based on the content of that information, that’s censorship," said Randall Marshall, Legal Director for the ACLU of Florida. "These publications provide inmates with vital information about their legal rights and individuals in FDOC custody have a right to access these publications."

The blocked publication does not violate FDOC policies or regulations but is being kept from subscribers, according to the FDOC, because of advertising content, such as ads for pen-pal services.

"The FDOC is imposing a blanket ban on all of PLN’s publications, including our self-help books for prisoners, because they don’t like some of our advertisers," said PLN editor Paul Wright. "We believe that is entirely pretextual and an unjustified, exaggerated response that is being used to uphold unconstitutional censorship in violation of the First Amendment. Government officials should not be in the business of deciding what publications people are allowed to receive, even when those people are in prison, absent legitimate security concerns."

The complaint asks the court to find that the FDOC is blocking PLN's reading materials in violation of its rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, and also requests injunctive relief and legal fees.

"This illegal conduct by the FDOC is precisely the type of activity the First Amendment was meant to protect. It is why our country was founded in the first place, and the reason free speech and freedom of the press is in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights," added Randall Berg, lead counsel and President of the Florida Justice Institute.

PLN had previously sued the FDOC over similar censorship, and the FDOC changed its policy at that time to allow PLN to be distributed to Florida state prisoners. However, despite assurances that it would not reinstate the prior policy and continue censoring PLN’s publications, the FDOC did exactly that, even though PLN’s content had not changed.

"This is about as clear a case of censorship as there can be," stated ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon. "Government can’t censor material just because it doesn’t like what’s being published in the material – in this case, advertisements for pen-pal services. Just because our client provides legal information for people who are incarcerated doesn’t mean they forfeit their constitutional rights. The Department of Corrections doesn’t have to like that fact, but they are obligated to respect it."


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About the ACLU of Florida The ACLU of Florida is freedom's watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislature and throughout Florida to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the United States and Florida Constitutions and the Bill of Rights. For additional information, visit our web site at: www.aclufl.org

About Florida Justice Institute The Florida Justice Institute is a private, not-for-profit, state-wide public interest litigation firm founded by leaders of the private bar in 1978 to conduct major, systemic litigation involving civil rights for individuals confined in Florida’s prisons and jails, housing and disability-related discrimination, as well as impact litigation and class actions for indigent populations. For additional information, visit our web site at: www.FloridaJusticeInstitute.org

About Prison Legal News PLN, founded in 1990 with offices in Brattleboro, Vermont, publishes a monthly journal on criminal justice-related issues and is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, a Washington non-profit organization. PLN includes reports, reviews and analyses of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights. PLN has about 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. www.prisonlegalnews.org


 


 

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