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PLN Sues Michigan DOC over Censorship of The Celling of America

On February 8, 1999, PLN sued the Michigan Department of Corrections in U.S. District Court in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In April, 1998, prison officials at the Huron Valley Men's Facility censored a copy of PLN 's critically acclaimed book The Celling of America: An Inside Look at the U.S. Prison Industry , (TCOA) sent by PLN to prisoner Larry Lynch. PLN was not notified of the censorship by prison officials.

Lynch appealed the censorship which was upheld at each level of the censorship review process. Prison officials claimed that TCOA "advocates violence, riots." Lynch informed PLN of the censorship and PLN appealed, to no avail. Dan Bolden, deputy director of the MI DOC, upheld the censorship of TCOA, claiming it did not contribute towards the MI DOC's ability to maintain good order and security in its prisons. In August, 1998, TCOA was added to the MI DOC's list of banned publications.

The class action lawsuit includes two sets of plaintiffs. PLN and TCOA publisher Common Courage Press assert that their First amendment right to free speech is being violated by the MI DOC's ban of TCOA. Representing all vendors, publishers and others who send items to Michigan prisoners, PLN and Common Courage claim that the lack of notice, and an opportunity to appeal, for the senders of items that are censored violates the senders' right to due process.

Michigan prisoners Larry Lynch and Calvin Holmes are class representatives for all Michigan prisoners who have or may wish to purchase and read TCOA. They claim that the ban on TCOA violates their First amendment right to free speech.

The plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that the ban on TCOA and the lack of notice of the censorship to the sender violates their First and Fourteenth amendment rights. The plaintiffs also seek an injunction allowing delivery of TCOA to Michigan prisoners and notice to senders in the event materials are censored. The parties are also seeking attorney fees and costs as well as compensatory and punitive damages for PLN and Common Courage.

The plaintiffs filed a motion for a Preliminary Injunction to enjoin the ban on TCOA until the case is resolved. The plaintiffs note that TCOA is an anthology and virtually all the articles in TCOA have appeared in prior issues of PLN, none of which were censored by the MI DOC or which have caused any disturbances. The plaintiffs note that numerous book reviewers have praised TCOA and none have discovered the advocacy of riots and violence which the MI DOC claims lurks in the pages of TCOA.

Dan Manville, co-author of the Prisoners Self Help Litigation. Manual , is counsel for the plaintiffs in this action. PLN will report on the case as It progresses. We encourage our readers to get a copy of TCOA if you haven't done so already. Likewise, encourage your friends to buy the book that has been banned in Michigan! See: Prison Legal News v. Ransom , US DC ED MI, Case Number CV-99-70523AC.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Ransom

The complaint and settlement in the case are available in the briefbank.