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AL DOC Settles PLN Gift Subscription Lawsuit

On March 29, 2000, the Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC) settled a lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News and Alabama prisoner Aven Cotton. The Alabama DOC had previously required its prisoners to purchase books, magazines and newspaper subscriptions using funds from their prison trust fund accounts.

Gift books and subscriptions were censored at those prisons choosing to apply the policy (while the policy was statewide it was applied haphazardly) on the grounds that the prisoner did not purchase the items from their prison trust account. PLN was censored on this basis.

On May 13, 1999, PLN and Cotton filed suit claiming that the ban on gift subscriptions and books violated their First amendment right to free speech. The suit was later amended to include a claim by PLN that its due process rights were violated by the fact that it was never notified of the censorship, the reason for the censorship nor given an opportunity to appeal the matter.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Alabama DOC agree to amend Administrative Regulation 303 to allow prisoners to receive free and gift publications sent by vendors and publishers. The AR was also amended so that the publisher/sender of censored publications is provided with notice of the censorship and an opportunity to administratively appeal the matter.

The complaint had only sought injunctive and declaratory relief. The plaintiffs' attorneys agreed to waive the fees and costs in the case. Thus, no damages were awarded. The settlement is enforceable in state court as a contract should the Alabama DOC not abide by it. The plaintiffs in this case were represented by Catherine Smith and Rhonda Brownstein of the Southern poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. The settlement came while the parties' cross motions for summary judgment were pending before the court. See PLN v. Raley, US DC, MD AL, Case No. 99-D-486-N

PLN has also litigated a ban on gift subscript publications against the Washington state DOC. Humanists of Washington v. Lehman was settled with the Washington DOC agreeing not to censor publications on the basis of who paid for it. [PLN, March, 2000]. The only published ruling on this issue, Crofton v. Roe, 170 F.3d 157 (9th Cir. 1999) [PLN, July, 1999], struck down as unconstitutional the Washington DOC's ban on gift subscriptions. Virginia, Minnesota and Kansas have enacted similar policies but to date, as far as we know, PLN has not been affected. If any readers have their subscription to PLN censored on this basis, please let us know.

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Prison Legal News v. Haley

The settlement is in the brief bank.