PLN sues Tulare County, CA over censorship claims
Magazine accuses Boudreaux of censorship
“The way we heard that censorship was occurring, because we heard from subscribers who wrote to us [from jail] that their subscriptions weren’t getting delivered,” said Lisa Ells, one of the lawyers representing “Prison Legal News” in its lawsuit against Boudreaux, whose duties as sheriff include overseeing the county’s jails.
He’s singled out as the defendant because he sets policies regarding inmates receiving mail, states the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, in Fresno.
The San Francisco attorney said an attempt was made to serve county officials with a notice of the filing on Friday, “but they closed early for Halloween,” so plans were to make another attempt Monday.
“Prison Legal News” is a 72-page monthly magazine put out by the Human Rights Defense Center, a Washington state-based nonprofit.
The magazine claims to have thousands subscribers, including inmates, attorneys, journalists, public libraries, judges and members of the public. It’s sent to inmates and law librarians at more than 2,600 jails and prisons in all 50 states, according to the complaint filed with the district court.
In their court filing, the plaintiffs claim that between September 2013 and October 2015, 336 issues were sent to inmates in Tulare County’s jails, and they either weren’t delivered or sent back.
“PLN engages in core protected speech and expressive conduct on matters of public concern, such as the operation of prison facilities, prison conditions, prisoner health and safety and prisoners’ rights. Plaintiff’s monthly journal, as described above, contains political speech and social commentary, which are at the core of First Amendment values.” the lawsuit states.
It goes on to say that sheriff’s staff “deprived and continue to deprive plaintiff of liberty and property without due process of law, in violation of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
“Plaintiff learned from some of PLN’s subscribers that jail staff claimed that they were not delivering ‘Prison Legal News’ due to the fact that it is bound with two wire staples,” according to the lawsuit.
“It’s just like the staples in ‘Time Magazine,’” Ells noted.
And in the lawsuit, lawyers for PLN claim that sheriff’s staff delivers to inmates a Christian-based magazine, “Our Daily Bread,” which is also held together with staples.
“Defendants’ refusal to deliver Prison Legal News, a secular publication, because it is bound with staples, while delivering a Christian publication bound with staples to inmates in the Jail, violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
“Additionally, by treating plaintiff differently than other similarly situated publishers and distributors, defendants violate Plaintiffs’ right to equal protection under the law.”
What this amounts to is censorship, said Ells, noting that when jails or prisons censor materials, they are required by federal law to notify the recipients and the distributors so they can have opportunities to challenge those policies.
“In this case, we did not receive any notification from the jail in Tulare County that they were censoring our magazine.”
Calls to county officials to comment on the lawsuit weren’t returned by press time on Monday.
This is far from the first time that “Prison Legal News” has challenged a jail or prison for not delivering its magazines to subscribers.
“You’re one of many. Unfortunately, our client’s publications have been censored across the United States,” Ells said, adding that PLH has has had many successes in court getting injunctions to forces jail and prison staff to deliver its magazines to inmates and settlement favoring the magazine.
She said she knew of four such cases in California, including a 2013 settlement with the Sacramento jail system after it made claims that the staples in the magazines were safety concerns.
“I don’t know of the staples being used in any way that harmed or endanger the security of any institution,” Ells said.
She noted that PLN is delivered to The United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility in Fremont Colo., “The most secure prison in the United States.”
The magazine is seeking a court order compelling Tulare County jail staff to deliver PLN to subscribers in custody as well as an order for the county to pay its legal fees, along with unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.