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PLN Sues Dallas County Jail for Censorship

On February 26, 2007, Prison Legal News filed suit against the Dallas County Jail in Dallas, Texas, challenging the jail?s total ban on magazines and newspapers. PLN claims the policy, which took effect on March 31, 2006, violates the publication?s right to free speech and due process of law. PLN is seeking declatory and injunctive relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys fees. It has also filed a motion seeking a preliminary injunction to allow its nine subscribers in the jail to receive the mailings.

Under the jail?s current policy issues of PLN are destroyed upon receipt at the jail. Billy Allen, a prisoner at the jail, filed a grievance on July 20, 2006, because he was not receiving the publication. On September 7, 2006 Allen received the jail officials? response, which merely stated that ?newspapers and magazines are no longer allowed at the jail.? Neither Allen nor PLN was notified of the jail?s decision to destroy the publications or given an opportunity to object.

The jail has faced growing criticism for its many human rights abuses, including but not limited to overcrowding, understaffing, and poor medical care. ?If there was ever a jail where prisoners needed to know their legal rights, it?s the Dallas County Jail,? said PLN editor Paul Wright. ?The jail is scheduled to be closed down by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards in the next three months, but now the prisoners there can?t access a legitimate magazine that advises them of their constitutional rights.?

Scott Medlock, PLN?s attorney in the case, believes the policy will be struck down in federal court. ?The First Amendment to the Constitution protects publishers? rights to communicate with inmates,? explained Medlock. ?Last year, without telling anyone, the jail decided to stop allowing inmates to receive magazines and newspapers. Numerous courts around the country have held these policies are unconstitutional. Dallas County stands alone in violating the First Amendment.?

PLN has been published continuously since 1990 and has approximately 5,600 subscribers nationwide. Medlock works with the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin, TX. The lawsuit, Prison Legal News v. Lindsey, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Case Number 07-CV-367.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Lindsey

The complaint is available in the brief bank.