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PLN files censorship suit against jail in Upshur County, Texas

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2012.
Press release - PLN files censorship suit against jail in Upshur County, Texas 2012

PRESS RELEASE

Prison Legal News – For Immediate Release

November 1, 2012

Publisher Files Censorship Lawsuit Against Upshur County Jail


Dallas, Texas – Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly publication that reports on criminal justice-related issues, today filed a federal lawsuit against Upshur County Sheriff Anthony Betterton and Sheriff's Lt. Jill McCoy, alleging unconstitutional censorship at the Upshur County Jail in violation of the First Amendment and the Texas Constitution.

"Prohibiting prisoners from reading books is outrageous," said attorney Brian McGiverin of the Texas Civil Rights Project. "If there is anything we should be encouraging prisoners to do while they are locked up, it's read."

According to the complaint, the Upshur County Jail’s inmate handbook "contains no written criteria explaining when a publication will be rejected," and jail policy "does not provide a sender any notice or explanation when a book is censored." Although prisoners can appeal a censorship decision, publishers and others who send reading materials to prisoners cannot.

PLN mailed copies of its monthly publication to prisoners at the Upshur County Jail, as well as copies of a book titled Protecting Your Health and Safety. The jail rejected approximately 90 of PLN's publications over a one-year period, stamping them "No Newspaper," "Unauthorized Mail," "Not Approved" or "Refused." The jail also rejected legal mail sent to prisoners by PLN. No notice was provided regarding the censorship of PLN's publications.

The lawsuit contends that "censorship of PLN's reading material is arbitrary, unrelated to any legitimate penological interest, and without any individualized determination based on content," in violation of PLN's First Amendment and due process rights. Such censorship also violates provisions of the Texas Constitution.

Contemporaneously with the filing of the suit, PLN filed a motion for a preliminary injunction "to stop Defendants from censoring books and magazines PLN mails to inmates in the Upshur County Jail." The motion argues that a preliminary injunction is necessary because the "Upshur County Jail routinely censors PLN’s mail" in violation of PLN's constitutional rights.

PLN has challenged similar censorship in numerous other jurisdictions, including the jails in Galveston County and Dallas County. In both of those cases, county officials settled lawsuits filed by PLN by making changes to their jail mail policies.

"There is no exception for jails or prisoners in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States," said PLN editor Paul Wright. "Government officials are not allowed to violate the rights of those who send reading materials to people who are incarcerated, many of whom are awaiting trial and are therefore presumed innocent."

The case is Prison Legal News v. Betterton, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Case No. 2:12-cv-00699. PLN is represented by attorneys Brian McGiverin and Scott Medlock with the Texas Civil Rights Project, and by HRDC attorneys Lance Weber and Alissa R. Hull.

____________________________


Prison Legal News (PLN) is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center. HRDC, founded in 1990 with offices in Brattleboro, Vermont, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes PLN, a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has approximately 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.


For further information, please contact:

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

Scott Medlock, Attorney
Texas Civil Rights Project
1405 Montopolis Dr.
Austin, TX 78741
(512) 474-5073
(512) 474-0726 fax
smedlock@texascivilrightsproject.org


 


 

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