Kristine Guerra 3:22 p.m. EST December 1, 2014
A monthly prison journal has filed a lawsuit challenging an Indiana prison’s decision to deny inmate subscribers access to the publication, which focuses on prisoners’ rights and analysis of prisons, jails and other detention facilities.
Prison Legal News has sent at least 90 issues of the journal to subscribers at the New Castle Correctional Facility since February. But according to a federal complaint, which alleges violation of the journal’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, several inmate subscribers did not receive copies of the journal.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana against GEO Group Inc., a Boca Raton, Fla.-based company that the state has contracted to run the New Castle prison, and the facility’s superintendent, Keith Butts. The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana is handling the lawsuit on behalf of Prison Legal News.
According to the complaint, prisoners weren’t allowed to receive copies of the journal because it contains advertisements from companies that provide pen-pal services to prisoners. The Indiana Department of Correction has a policy prohibiting prisoners from participating in pen-pal services, according to a memo sent to inmates by Butts’ executive assistant. The memo was filed in court along with the complaint.
The memo also asked inmates who wish to keep any copies of the journal to send them to their families “or they will be considered contraband and could be confiscated.”
The lawsuit claims the policy is irrational because many other publications that prisoners are allowed to receive contain advertisements for services or items to which they don’t have access.
“There is no rational constitutional basis for the prison to deny access to this publication, which is distributed across the country and is a vital resource for those who are incarcerated,” Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana’s legal director, said in a news release. “The denial violates the most fundamental rights — the right to engage in speech on matters of public concern and the right of due process.”
Doug Garrison, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Correction, said he cannot comment on pending litigation. He released a statement saying the agency through its legal counsel, the Indiana attorney general’s office, will review the complaint. GEO Group has not responded to an email requesting comment.
Defendants have 21 days from when the lawsuit was filed to file a response.
Prison Legal News is a publication produced by Human Rights Defense Center, a Lake Worth, Fla.-based nonprofit organization. The magazine has subscribers in about 2,400 correctional facilities across the country.