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Human rights group says NC kept magazines about prison misconduct from inmates

News Observer, Nov. 17, 2021.
The NC Department of Public Safety faces a federal lawsuit alleging its staff frequently censors magazines that inmates receive in the mail, especially those that have articles about prison misconduct. The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, comes from the nonprofit Human Rights Defense Center in Florida, which publishes both Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. Those magazines, which focus on inmates’ rights, court rulings, prison conditions and other criminal justice issues, circulate to a combined 232 people in correctional facilities statewide. Sample copies are also sent to non-subscribing prisoners.

Between January of 2019 and August of 2021, the nonprofit lists 23 of its magazine issues or annual reports banned by DPS, including: ▪ a January 2019 issue that gave details about censorship in prison and the nonprofit’s attempt to combat it.
▪ a January 2020 issue that described inadequate educational resources at a Florida prison. ▪ a February 2021 issue with an account of a death in custody and a lawsuit over failure to protect an inmate. ▪ a June 2021 issue containing an article about an inmate giving birth in her jail cell and another about a ban on Christmas cards. ▪ a February 2021 issue describing a lawsuit against prison officials in California. DPS policy, the suit said, allows material to be kept from offenders because of “threats to institutional safety and security,” including anything that describes gang activity or making weapons.

“None of the content of [the pages] cited in the February 24, 2021 letter can reasonably be considered to contain threats to NCDPS’ institutional safety and security,” the lawsuit said, a defense issued after each example. DPS does not typically comment on pending litigation, a spokesman said Monday. In October, DPS began contracting with a private company in Maryland to process inmate mail, a process that involves converting letters to digital files. But the contractor does not handle packages, including magazines. According to the suit, the state violated both the 1st and 14th Amendments by violating the nonprofit’s right to free speech and denying the company access to readers without notice or a chance to appeal. HRDC also argues that DPS is suppressing its political message and speech, frustrating its mission, hurting its ability to recruit new supporters, subscribers and writers and costing subscriptions and customers.

It seeks unspecified damages, an end to the practice and a declaration that such actions are unconstitutional.



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