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Inmate advocacy group alleges Nebraska prison's book policy is unconstitutional

Norfolk Daily News, March 12, 2022.

A Florida-based inmate advocacy group has sued Scott Frakes, accusing the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services he leads of censorship. 

In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Lincoln, Human Rights Defense Center said the Nebraska prison system on at least six occasions has prevented it from sending books to state prisoners under its approved vendor policy.

The books were self-help litigation manuals for inmates.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to block Frakes from enforcing the policy corrections has had since May 2021, which prohibits mailed books unless they are sent from Edward R. Hamilton, a Connecticut-based wholesaler of books.

Paul Wright, executive director of the nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of people held in U.S. detention facilities, said in September the group mailed several legal books to prisoners that were "censored" by prison officials.

Some were sent back with "return to sender" or "refused" with no explanation.

The group's general counsel, Dan Marshall, said that Frakes, who worked at the Washington State Department of Corrections before coming to Nebraska, was named in a lawsuit there challenging the constitutionality of similar restrictions.

In 2003, a federal court in Seattle issued injunctions against Frakes and other state prison officials in a decision later affirmed on appeal.

Marshall said the state of Washington ultimately paid $100,000 in damages to Human Rights Defense Center and $442,000 in attorneys fees for violating the center's constitutional rights.

The new lawsuit alleges Nebraska's policy unconstitutionally restricts the group's First Amendment right to free speech and its right to due process because it wasn't allowed to appeal the decision.

"HRDC’s books and magazines inform prisoners about educational opportunities, their constitutional rights, and means for self-improvement while incarcerated,” Marshall said in a news release. "Banning these publications from reaching those who are in prison is an affront to the First Amendment, as well as counterproductive to the goals of security and rehabilitation.”

The state hasn't yet filed a response to the lawsuit.




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