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WI DOC Ends Censorship of PLN

In early August 2000, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) announced it would end its haphazard ban on PLN in Wisconsin prisons. Since January 2000, some Wisconsin prisons had refused to allow prisoners to subscribe or renew their subscriptions to PLN by paying for the subscription via their prison trust fund account.

The supposed reason for the ban was the Wisconsin's DOC claim that PLN constitutes "legal services", and because PLN is edited by prisoner Paul Wright it therefore constituted "paid legal services." Wisconsin prison rules prohibit prisoners from paying other prisoners for legal services. Hence the ban.

Several Wisconsin prisoners used the grievance system to no avail. PLN also wrote to DOC secretary Jon Litscher and his office responded stating PLN would be banned on this basis in all Wisconsin prisons.

PLN retained Milwaukee attorney Larry Albrecht and ACLU National Prison Project attorney David Fathi to litigate the censorship. Mr. Fathi sent the Wisconsin DOC a demand letter stating that the PLN ban violated PLN's First Amendment rights and was otherwise unconstitutional. The demand letter stated that if the ban was not lifted immediately, litigation would ensue.

The Wisconsin DOC responded by lifting the ban and claiming it had based the ban on "erroneous information." PLN has since sent letters to all of its Wisconsin prisoner subscribers and former subscribers, informing them of the change. We would like to thank Messrs. Albrecht and Fathi for their assistance in resolving this matter. We would also like to thank those Wisconsin prisoners who informed PLN of the censorship and exhausted their administrative remedies, which created useful evidence had litigation been necessary.

In recent years PLN has faced increased censorship in prisons and jails around the country. In most instances, such as this one, PLN is never notified of the censorship by prison officials. It is usually the prisoner subscribers who alert us to the censorship. In most cases PLN has been able to resolve the matter by writing or calling prison officials. When that fails we must find counsel willing to represent PLN on a contingency or pro bono basis who is also willing to advance litigation costs.

In some cases, such as this one, censors capitulate without a court battle. In others litigation is duly initiated. We ask that readers keep PLN informed anytime PLN is censored, and that they exhaust whatever administrative remedies they have available and send PLN the documentation if that is unsuccessful. At that point, PLN will contact prison or jail officials to attempt to resolve the problem.

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