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PLN settles censorship suit against Shawnee County, Kansas jail

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2012.
Press release - PLN settles censorship suit against Shawnee County, Kansas jail 2012

PRESS RELEASE

Prison Legal News – For Immediate Release

February 9, 2012

Publisher Settles First Amendment Censorship Lawsuit Against Kansas Jail

Topeka, KS – Today, the Board of Commissioners for Shawnee County, Kansas approved a settlement in a lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly publication that covers criminal justice-related issues and a project of the non-profit Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC).

The lawsuit was filed by PLN in August 2011 against the Board of Commissioners and Richard Kline, Director of the Shawnee County Department of Corrections. PLN alleged the defendants had instituted a policy that prohibited prisoners at the county’s Adult Detention Center from receiving magazines, books and other publications.

Reading materials mailed by PLN to prisoners at the facility, including letters, PLN’s monthly publication and a book entitled "Protecting Your Health and Safety," were rejected by jail staff. PLN was not notified of this censorship despite a 2007 Kansas federal court ruling in an earlier lawsuit filed by PLN, which held that Kansas prisons must provide publishers with notice of censorship decisions and an opportunity to appeal.

"The law on censorship of publications and books by jail officials has long been established in Kansas, and county officials did not follow the law," said PLN editor Paul Wright. "As a result, we were forced to file suit to protect our rights as a publisher under the First Amendment. But we are glad the County Commissioners promptly took steps to resolve this problem."

To settle the case, Shawnee County agreed to make policy changes at the jail related to the receipt of publications by jail prisoners, including PLN’s monthly magazine and soft cover books. The jail may still reject mail sent to prisoners for legitimate security reasons. Senders of rejected mail will receive notice of any censorship decisions, and the district court will retain jurisdiction over the case to enforce the stipulated judgment. The county further agreed to pay $75,000 to PLN in damages, attorney fees and costs.

"The First Amendment does not stop at the door of the county jail. This is particularly true given that many people held at the jail are awaiting trial, have not been convicted and are presumed innocent," Wright stated. "In approving the settlement in this case the Board of Commissioners recognized that fact, and we commend them for ensuring the policies at the jail are lawful and respect the rights of both prisoners and those who correspond with them."

"Freedom of speech lies at the very heart of the notion of freedom itself," added HRDC Chief Counsel Lance Weber. "Not only do the prisoners in the Shawnee County jail benefit from the policy changes effectuated by this case, but by strengthening First Amendment protections for everyone, PLN is serving the interests of the community at large."

PLN was represented by attorney Stephen D. Bonney with the ACLU Foundation of Kansas & Western Missouri, Kansas City attorneys Fred Slough and James D. Jenkins, and HRDC Chief Counsel Lance Weber. The case is Prison Legal News v. Board of Commissioners of Shawnee County, U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, Case No. 2:11-cv-02497-WEB-KGG.

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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

Lance Weber
Chief Counsel, HRDC
P.O. Box 2420
Brattleboro, VT 05303
(802) 257-1342
lweber@humanrightsdefensecenter.org

Stephen Douglas Bonney
ACLU Foundation of Kansas & Western Missouri
3601 Main Street
Kansas City, MO 64111
(816) 994-3311
dbonney@aclukswmo.org


 


 

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