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PLN Sues Washington DOC Over Mail Censorship - Again

On November 27, 2001, Prison Legal News sued Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) officials across the state for its policies and practices of censoring mail items sent by PLN to Washington state prisoners. The suit names DOC Secretary Joseph Lehman, Deputy Secretary Eldon Vail, regional administrators Jim Blodgett and Carol Porter as defendants, as well as the superintendents of the prisons at Airway Heights, Clallam Bay, Shelton, Monroe, McNeil Island, Stafford Creek, Walla Walla and Purdy.

For the past several years, the Washington DOC has censored PLN subscription and book flyers and subscription renewal notices sent to Washington prisoners claiming they are "catalogs." The DOC prohibits prisoners in its custody from receiving "catalogs." This suit challenges the constitutionality of the "catalog" ban since the DOC makes no provision for prisoners to have access to book or magazine "catalogs", especially PLN 's. The Washington DOC has also refused, on several occasions; to deliver books distributed by PLN to Washington prisoners by claiming the books were not sent by a "publisher or vendor." PLN is challenging the constitutionality of the "publisher only" rule as applied to the materials shipped by PLN .

The suit also challenges the Washington DOC's practice of destroying, without notice to the sender or intended recipient, mailings sent via standard non-profit postage rates (aka "bulk mail"). This includes reader surveys, fundraisers, legislative action alerts, etc. The Washington DOC has been successfully sued three times before this in cases involving PLN sending standard rate mail to Washington prisoners. Despite suffering wretched defeats on this issue three times previously, the Washington DOC claims it only has to deliver the Prison Legal News magazine, and remains free to destroy PLN 's other mailings sent via standard mail.

The suit also challenges the Washington's DOC practice of censoring court rulings and pleadings sent by PLN to Washington prisoners, especially to PLN 's editor, Paul Wright. PLN has also sued the Washington DOC over this issue in the past, which resulted in a settlement.

The complaint seeks injunctive and declaratory relief that these policies and practices violate PLN 's constitutional rights to free speech and due process of law. PLN is also seeking compensatory and punitive damages along with its attorney fees and costs. The case has been assigned to judge Robert Lasnick in the federal court in Seattle. PLN is represented in this case by Jesse Wing of the Seattle law firm of McDonald, Hogue and Bayless. See: Prison Legal News v. Lehman , USDC WDWA, Case No. CV011911L.

This is the sixth suit involving the censorship of PLN that has been filed against the Washington DOC in the past six years. One case is still pending, the other four resulted in judgments against the DOC, (see: Miniken v. Walter , 978 F. Supp. 1356 (ED WA 1997); MacFarlane v. Walter , unpublished; and Crofton v. Roe , 170 F.3d 957 (9th Cir. 1999)) or in settlement (see: Humanists of Washington v. Lehman ). The seemingly pathological desire of prisoncrats to keep PLN out of Washington prisons seems to outweigh any considerations for either the constitution or the public fisc.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Lehman

The complaint is in the brief bank.