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Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual

Human rights group claims censorship, sues Henderson detention center

The Gleaner, Sept. 25, 2020. https://www.thegleaner.com/story/news/2020/09/2...
Beth Smith
Henderson Gleaner

HENDERSON, Ky. — The local detention center is being sued by a human rights organization for alleged censorship of books and magazines it publishes for inmates.

According to a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Owensboro, "Defendants have adopted and implemented mail policies and practices that unconstitutionally prohibit delivery of books, magazines, and other correspondence mailed by the Human Rights Defense Center to persons incarcerated at the Jail, and that deny due process of law to senders, like HRDC, whose mail is censored by failing to provide adequate notice and opportunity to challenge each instance of censorship.

"Defendants’ actions violate HRDC’s rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and HRDC seeks injunctive and declaratory relief and damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983."

The First Amendment says the government can't infringe rights to speech, petition, assembly, and religion. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the government provide due process before any deprivation of life, liberty or property, and that it provide equal protection under the law.

The lawsuit was filed Sept. 21 and specifically names Jailer Amy Brady, Henderson County Judge-executive Brad Schneider, the jail's mail clerk Lironda Hunt and 10 unknown/unnamed persons. "HRDC will seek to amend this Complaint as soon as the true names and identities of (individuals) 1 through 10 have been ascertained through discovery," the documents said.

The court action maintains that since June, the jail has denied inmates access to materials mailed to them by the Human Rights Defense Center.

The lawsuit documents report that the HRDC — a non-profit organization — is asking to be awarded a monetary amount for "damages" but does not stipulate a particular sum.

It does say that, "Sending publications through the mail to incarcerated persons is essential to accomplishing HRDC’s mission. The primary aim of HRDC is to communicate with incarcerated persons about the developments in the law and protection of one’s health and personal safety while in prison and jail. Reading materials enable incarcerated persons to engage in productive activity rather than sitting idle, thus helping to avoid conflicts and incidents of violence in correctional facilities and encouraging lawful methods of dispute resolution. In addition, reading allows incarcerated persons to keep their minds sharp, helping them to prepare to become productive citizens when released back into society."

The court action maintains that since June, the jail has denied inmates access to materials mailed to them by the Human Rights Defense Center.

The lawsuit documents report that the HRDC — a non-profit organization — is asking to be awarded a monetary amount for "damages" but does not stipulate a particular sum.

It does say that, "Sending publications through the mail to incarcerated persons is essential to accomplishing HRDC’s mission. The primary aim of HRDC is to communicate with incarcerated persons about the developments in the law and protection of one’s health and personal safety while in prison and jail. Reading materials enable incarcerated persons to engage in productive activity rather than sitting idle, thus helping to avoid conflicts and incidents of violence in correctional facilities and encouraging lawful methods of dispute resolution. In addition, reading allows incarcerated persons to keep their minds sharp, helping them to prepare to become productive citizens when released back into society."

"Although HRDC mailed unsolicited booklets to several inmates in the detention center earlier this year, those booklets were returned to HRDC because they contained staples. Staples are not allowed in the inmate cells for several reasons, including the fact that they can be used as weapons and/or as 'needles' in homemade tattoo devices," Blankenship said.

"Consequently, those publications were returned to HRDC with the notation 'Return to Sender Per Mail Policy.'

"On another occasion, HRDC mailed a different type of unsolicited publication to an inmate in the facility. That publication did not contain staples. However, when the package was delivered to the inmate, he refused acceptance, stating that he did not request the information. That package was returned to HRDC as 'Return to Sender: Refused.'

"Furthermore, it is important to note that on July 28, 2020, Henderson County Detention Center entered into a contract with a third party vendor regarding the delivery of inmate mail. That vendor scans all inmate mail into a computer system that is available to inmates via their unique password," she said. "As a result, inmates are now able to view their mail on computer tablets located in inmate cells. This process began on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020.

"HRDC’s constitutional rights have not been violated, and I am confident that the lawsuit will be dismissed."

 

 

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