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WSP Ban on Gift Subscriptions Enjoined

In two separate, unpublished rulings, different federal magistrates in Spokane, Washington, held that a Washington State Penitentiary policy requiring that prisoners purchase all magazine subscriptions and books from their prison trust accounts was unconstitutional. Both courts enjoined the policy. WSP Policy 450.100 states that prisoners can receive publications from the publisher provided they "are paid for in advance by the inmate." This was clarified by superintendent Tana Wood via an administrative bulletin, stating this "means the publication must be paid for by the inmate with funds from his account. Gift subscriptions/publications (a subscription or publication paid for by someone other than the inmate) are prohibited."

Clayton Crofton filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the policy. In 1996 he obtained rulings in his favor on this issue. [We are publishing this information now to alert PLN readers of the courts' injunctions. PLN is among the publications to experience censorship at WSP on the grounds that the subscription was not purchased by the prisoner from his trust account. The trust account purchase requirement is also being challenged in Humanists of Washington v. Lehman , see PLN , Nov. 1997].

In Crofton v. Ocanaz , CY-95-3142- LRS, magistrate Suko concluded that the "Defendants fail to show a rational connection between WSP absolute prohibition on gift publications and the stated penological concerns of contraband, storage space, and strong arming. Therefore, the prohibition against gift publication violates plaintiff's First Amendment rights and plaintiff is entitled to injunctive and declaratory relief with respect to that particular prison regulation."

In Crofton v. Spalding , CS-94- 208-CI, Magistrate Imbrugno held, after a bench trial, that the defendants had applied the purchase policy inconsistently and that "there is no legitimate penological interest at stake here." The court's injunction, dated May 23, 1996, states: "Defendants are permanently enjoined, under the regulations which are currently in effect, from rejecting the delivery of plaintiff's gift subscriptions to magazines upon their delivery by the postal service to the WSP mailroom, so long as the content of those magazines meets institutional regulations and the bulk of those magazines meets storage requirements."

Both rulings granted the WSP defendants qualified immunity from money damages, holding prisoners did not have a clearly established right to receive gift subscriptions. Both cases are currently on appeal in the ninth circuit. We ask that our readers inform us of unpublished rulings that enjoin prison rules or policies and which affect large numbers of people.

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Related legal cases

Crofton v. Ocanaz

The ruing is available in the brief bank.

Crofton v. Spalding