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PLN Sues Oregon DOC Over Bulk Mail Ban

On October 29, 1998, Prison Legal News ( PLN ) sued the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) in federal district court for damages and declaratory and injunctive relief. Since at least 1991 the Oregon DOC has had a policy requiring that all mail sent to Oregon prisoners be sent via first or second class mail. The Oregon DOC refuses to deliver mail sent via third and fourth class mail, AKA standard or bulk mail. PLN mails its magazine via third class mail at non profit rates. The result is that the Oregon DOC refuses to deliver PLN to the prisoners in its custody due solely to the mail rate paid to send PLN .

The Oregon DOC has adamantly refused to change its bulk mail ban despite letters from PLN , our attorney and grievances by Oregon prisoners. In addition to PLN , the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Coalition for Prisoner Rights, a New Mexico based newsletter, and Oregon prisoners Michael Tucker, Mark Wilson and Le Hung.

The lawsuit claims that the Oregon DOC's ban on third and fourth class mail violates the First Amendment right to free speech of publishers and plaintiffs. The plaintiffs also claim their right to due process is violated because no type of notice or opportunity to appeal the censorship is provided to the sender or intended recipient. The plaintiffs seek $1 a day for each day the bulk mail ban is in effect as well as attorney fees and costs. The plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgement that the bulk mail policy is unconstitutional and an injunction requiring the delivery of all third and fourth class mail. PLN will report the progress of the suit in future issues. The plaintiffs in this suit are represented by Alison Hardy of the Oregon Law Center and Oregon ACLU cooperating attorney Marc Blackman. See: Prison Legal News v. Cook , USDC Oregon, Case number 98-1344MA.

PLN is also suing the Washington and Utah DOC's over bulk mail bans in those states. The Washington suit, Humanists of Washington v. Lehman , is still in the discovery stage. [ PLN , Nov. 1997] The Utah DOC rescinded its bulk mail ban shortly after being sued. The case is in the midst of being settled pending the outcome of a hearing on the adequacy of administrative remedies for Utah prisoners under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. See: Prisoners' Legal News v. Haun . [ PLN , July, 1998]

Tn two separate rulings different federal judges in Spokane, Washington, have held that bulk mail bans are unconstitutional as applied to PLN .See: Miniken v. Walter , 978 F. Supp. 1356 (ED WA 1997) and MacFarlane v. Walter , Case No. CS-96-3102LRS (unpublished ruling). [ PLN , Feb. 1998].

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Cook

The complaint is available in the briefbank.