Comal County is being sued in federal court by Prison Legal News, which claims that publications and letters sent to county inmates are being unlawfully withheld and censored by jail authorities.
The lawsuit, filed July 8 in U.S. District Court in San Antonio, asks that Comal County Sheriff Bob Holder and his staff be ordered to establish notification and appeal procedures for when they deem mail inappropriate for delivery.
It says at least 31 issues of Prison Legal News magazine mailed to individual Comal County inmates since 2011 have been returned, as well as some pamphlets, books and letters sent to inmates.
“The contents of Prison Legal News are protected speech and expression,” says the suit, filed by Scott Medlock of the Texas Civil Rights Project. “PLN has a constitutionally protected liberty interest in communicating with incarcerated individuals.”
The magazine covers a variety of incarceration-related issues. Owned by the Human Rights Defense Center, a Florida-based non-profit organization, it has been published since 1990 and has about 7,000 subscribers nationwide, many behind bars.
“These books foster a better understanding of criminal justice policies and issues and allow prisoners to educate themselves on related issues,” said Paul Wright, the publication’s founder and editor, in an affidavit supporting the lawsuit.
The mailings returned by the Comal County Jail bore markings “Return to Sender Unauthorized Mail,” “Refused” or “Not Deliverable As Addressed,” the suit states.
Comal County Jail policy allows inmates to receive one of three select newspapers daily (the San Antonio Express-News, the Austin American-Statesman or USA Today), and to possess only the most current issue, the suit states.
Inmates also are allowed to possess a religious book and one book from the prison library cart, according to the suit, but the policy states, “No books from the publisher or bookstore will be allowed through the mail.”
Calling the county’s policies extreme, Medlock said, “The Supreme Court has allowed prisoners to receive books and magazines through the mail for almost 40 years.”
Neither Sheriff Holder nor Comal County Judge Sherman Krause returned calls seeking comment. The federal court record doesn’t include a county reply to the suit.
Medlock said few other detention facilities nationwide block the delivery of PLN magazine. One that allegedly does, the Upshur County Jail, also is currently being sued by PLN, Medlock said.