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PLN Suit Filed Against ISRB

By Paul Wright

Readers may recall that former PLN coeditor Ed Mead was released from prison in October, 1993, after serving nearly 18 years in prison. The day after he was released he was required to sign a standard conditions of release document for the Washington state Indeterminate Sentence Review Board (ISRB), formerly known as the parole board. Four days later, the ISRB added a new condition: "Do not associate with individuals with prior felony convictions." A similar restriction on Ed's federal parole was interpreted by Ed's federal parole officer to prohibit only direct physical contact with felons. Ed's state parole officer specifically explained that the state prohibition explicitly prohibited direct or indirect contact (i.e. by mail or phone), even through third parties, with felons. This specifically included PLN.

On November 14, 1993, Ed filed an administrative request with the ISRB seeking a modification of the restriction so as to allow him to continue working on publishing PLN. The ISRB refused to modify its instruction.

The effect of this order were that Ed and I could not communicate by mail or phone to consult on PLN related matters. Ed's parole officers have repeatedly questioned him about his involvement with PLN and have verbally pressured him to limit his involvement with PLN. They have even searched Ed's files and computer disks outside his presence, and questioned his family about his involvement with PLN.

On June 1, 1994, ACLU cooperating attorney Frank Cuthbertson, with the Seattle law firm of Davis, Wright and Tremaine, filed suit in United States District Court in Tacoma on behalf of Ed and myself to challenge this crude attempt by the ISRB to silence PLN and retaliate against Ed for past critical articles about the ISRB that have appeared in PLN.

Among those being sued are Kit Bail, chairperson of the ISRB, the ISRB, and parole officers Richard Cornweil and Clint Weimeister. The complaint alleges that by imposing the no contact ban on Ed and effectively ending his involvement with PLN they have imposed a prior restraint of the press on PLN. The ban also violates my rights and those of other prisoners to communicate with Ed for the redress of grievances.

That there is no legitimate reason for the communication ban is demonstrated by the fact that when Ed and I first started PLN in 1990 we were in separate prisons, he in Monroe, myself at Clallam Bay. There was never any problem with our correspondence. At that time each of us would type half of PLN in our respective prison before sending it out to be copied and mailed. In 1992 I was transferred back to Monroe where we lived on the same tier and were able to collaborate on PLN until he was released in 1993.

The only reason the ISRB has imposed a no contact prohibition on Ed is to put in place a condition they thought he was unlikely to abide by which would give them an excuse to imprison him again. In an article with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (PI) the ISRB candidly admitted that when they paroled him to his federal detainer they did not expect him to be released for several years. They called their decision a "mistake" while admitting they did not believe Ed posed any threat to society.

We will also be seeking a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order against the ISRB. As a result of the ban PLN, Ed and myself have suffered irreparable harm by being not being able to communicate. This ban has resulted in Ed discontinuing his involvement with PLN. The first amendment issues involved include whether the parole condition constitutes a prior restraint of the press and whether the state can lawfully threaten to imprison someone for participating in publishing a magazine.

We will keep readers posted as the suit progresses. It is essential to keep alternative avenues of communication like PLN open where prisoners have no other means of expressing ourselves and all too often are shut out of the mainstream media. Those readers desiring more information can contact Frank Cuhbertson at: 2600 Century Square, 1501 Fourth Ave. Seattle, WA. 98101-1662. (206) 622-3150.

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Related legal case

Mead v. ISRB