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PLN Sues Bureau of Prisons Over ADX Censorship

On December 10, 2003, PLN sued Harry Lappin, director of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), former director Kathleen Hawk Sawyer; Robert Hood and Michael Pugh, the current and former wardens, respectively, of the Administrative Maximum (ADX) facility in Florence, Colorado. The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Denver, Colorado. Since around 2001 the ADX has implemented a local policy, Institutional Supplement FLM 5265.11B and C which bans all publications that contain articles or information by or about prisons and prisoners. The policy is purportedly evenly applied to all publications. For PLN this has translated into a total, blanket ban. The BOP claims that publications containing such articles thus become "inmate correspondence," permitting such censorship.

PLN has filed a Bivens suit against the BOP defendants in their official and individual capacities claiming that this blanket ban violates its right as a publisher to free speech under the First Amendment. Prior to the new policy, PLN was regularly delivered to its ADX subscribers.

The BOP complex in Florence houses 4 different security level prisons. Since it opened in 1995, Florence, especially the ADX and U.S. Penitentiary, have been among the most violent prisons in the United States. Several guards were recently convicted of beating prisoners without provocation and then covering up the assaults by fabricating reports. Despite opening with huge media fanfare and being touted as the "Alcatraz of the Rockies" and the federal government's super max facility to replace the prison in Marion, Illinois, the corporate media has largely ignored the blood shed, brutality and mismanagement that have engulfed the facility since it opened. PLN and Denver's alternative weekly WestWord are the few publications that have regularly covered events at Florence. Not coincidentally, we are also the most censored publications.

The ADX houses many of the BOP's political prisoners, including members of Al-Qaida, the Order, black and Puerto Rican nationalists, prison gang leaders and spies. However, the majority of ADX prisoners (it has around 500 beds) are social prisoners accused or convicted of misconduct within the prison system. The ban on publications containing information by and about prisoners and prisons affects all ADX prisoners and publishers who wish to communicate with them. No other BOP facility bans PLN on this basis.

PLN also claims its right to due process is violated when issues of PLN are censored and PLN is not provided with written notice of the censorship and its basis.

PLN seeks declaratory relief that the policy, as written and as applied to PLN is unconstitutional and that PLN is a magazine, not "inmate correspondence." PLN also seeks injunctive relief enjoining the enforcement of the ban and requiring delivery of all previously censored copies of PLN to its subscribers. PLN seeks compensatory and punitive damages against the defendants as well as its reasonable costs and attorney fees.

PLN is represented by Mickey Gendler and Melissa Arias of the Seattle law firm of Gendler and Mann and by Bill Trine of the Boulder, Colorado law firm of Trine and Metcalf. PLN will report developments in the case as they occur. See: Prison Legal News v. Hood, USDC, D CO, Case No. 03-D-2516(PAC).

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Hood