Federal judge rules local jail system violated rights of non-profit organization
ABINGDON, Va. — A federal judge in Abingdon ruled that the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority violated the rights of a non-profit organization which distributes inmates books, magazines, and other information concerning legal news, prisoners’ rights, and current events.
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) sued the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority. In a 42-page order issued Wednesday, Judge James Jones wrote the case will proceed to a jury trial on damages, with a later hearing before the court to determine injunction relief.
In the order Judge Jones wrote:
Each of the four facilities has a book room where donated books are stored. Prisoners are not permitted to visit the book rooms, and they are not given a list of the books contained in the book rooms. They can, however, request to borrow up to two books at a time every two weeks. They can ask staff whether certain books are available. Prisoners do not always receive each book they request to borrow, even if a prisoner’s family member donated the book with the intention of it reaching that particular prisoner.
Judge Jones also stated:
HRDC has met its burden of demonstrating that the Jail Authority’s book ban and preapproval process leaves open no alternative means for HRDC to exercise its right communicate with prisoners.
"The Court's ruling underscores the importance of reading material inside a jail or prison," HRDC general counsel and litigation director Sabarish Neelakanta said. "Denying access to books and magazines does nothing to advance any purported security interest, and directly undermines the free speech rights of prisoners and their correspondents."
HRDC also wants declaratory relief, plus attorneys' fees and costs in the case.