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PLN wins preliminary injuction in Sacramento Jail censorship case

Daily Journal, Jan. 1, 2012. http://www.dailyjournal.com/public/pubmain.cfm?...
PLN wins preliminary injuction in Sacramento Jail censorship case - Daily Journal 2012

Daily Journal, March 12, 2012

Judge rules in prison newspaper’s favor on First Amendment claims

Ruling finds Prison Legal News likely to succeed in its First Amendment challenge.

By Henry Meier

An Eastern District federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction against Sacramento County for effectively banning a prison newspaper from its jails.

U.S. District Judge John Mendez of Sacramento issued the ruling in favor of Prison Legal News, writing that the publication "has demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of its First Amendment claim."

Sacramento County jails stopped distributing the paper to the inmates, claiming the staples used to bind the paper and the address labels on the envelopes the paper was shipped in – which could be laced with drugs – constituted safety threats.

Mendez wrote in his Thursday ruling that the staples and labels did not pose enough of a threat to warrant the ban.

"Defendants’ policies and practices including refusing to deliver PLN publications and mailings to prisoners because they contained staples and/or a mailing label are not supported by a legitimate penological interest and do not leave open alternative means for PLN to exercise its First Amendment rights," the judge wrote.

The editor of Prison Legal News, Paul Wright, said the safety argument was completely unsubstantiated and that the jails began banning the paper "out of the blue."

"We’ve had subscribers at the jail for literally decades," he said. "Then in 2009 or 2010 they started censoring the paper under the pretext that the staples and labels were a safety hazard."

Calls to the Sacramento County Sheriffs Department and Longyear, O’Dea & Lavra LLP, the firm representing the county in the litigation, were not returned.

Ernest J. Galvan of Rosen, Bien & Galvan LLP who represent Prison Legal News in the suit, said this latest litigation was representative of the extended fight the publication has waged to be able to provide information to inmates.

"From the beginning this publication has really helped establish that jails and prisons are not walled off from the First Amendment," he said. "The staples and labels argument is the latest in a long line of excuses."

Prison Legal News provides commentary on current events in the prison and jail community and takes a detailed look at the rights of inmates. Editor Wright said the publication repeatedly has been subject to both overt and covert hostility and censorship from correctional institutions.

"I think this fits within the overall crackdown by police and jails around the country," he said. "They seem intent on crushing the right to free speech."


 


 

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