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Court Upholds Prison Library Purge of Titillating Material
The plaintiff challenged the censorship of "the 'Paper Wings' line of
books, an adult-fiction serial" after exhausting. During discovery, he
said that he had found similar material in the prison library. Prison
officials then closed the library and had staff review the library's
contents (reading every book, they claim), with instructions to "purge
anything containing language that 'could be derived as a sexual turn-on,
according to the policy directive.'" They removed 21% of the library (259
of 1226 volumes), including William Styron's Sophie's Choice, Vidal's Myra
Breckinridge, and a number of works by John Updike. The plaintiff amended
his complaint to challenge the purge, but did not separately exhaust that
claim. It is dismissed without prejudice.
The prison policy prohibiting materials "which are obscene because they
depict explicit sexual activity" (enumerating acts), is not
unconstitutional as applied under the Turner standard. The
justifications--protecting security by minimizing violence arising from
barter of obscene materials, minimizing inmates' "titillation and arousal,"
and protecting rehabilitation--are legitimate and content-neutral.
(Avoiding titillation and arousal promotes security insofar as it reduces
the incidence of sexual attacks, the court finds, based on no discernible
evidence.) The plaintiff submitted an example of the Paper Wings books,
Hot Homemaker by Belle Spring, which the court observes "resembles a novel
only to the extent that it is nearly 200 printed pages of text and bound
along the left edge," and which it finds obscene under the prison policy
and the First Amendment. The connection between the censorship and its
objectives is supported by common sense; prison officials need not show
that the terrible things they are trying to prevent have actually occurred.
There are alternative means of exercising First Amendment rights, i.e.,
read non-obscene books. The impact of letting the plaintiff have the books
would be to compromise the interests the policy serves; the fact that he
personally might be unaffected is not dispositive, since others might read
them. The plaintiff does not show an alternative at de minimis cost; his
proposal to make individualized determinations for each prisoner and to ban
only pictorial representations of sexual activity respectively are
unworkable and would require the court to substitute its judgment for
prison officials'. See: Cline v. Fox, 266 F.Supp.2d 489 (N.D.W.Va. 2003).
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