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Massachusetts DOC Settles PLN Censorship Suit

Effective May 12, 2009, the Massachusetts Dept. of Correction (MDOC) agreed to settle a First Amendment censorship lawsuit filed by PLN.

PLN brought suit in U.S. District Court on April 23, 2008 following repeated efforts over a 5-year period to be added to the MDOC’s approved vendor list, which would allow PLN to sell or distribute books to Massachusetts prisoners. MDOC officials had offered pretextual excuses for failing to include PLN as an approved vendor. [See: PLN, June 2008, p.36].

One week after the lawsuit was filed, MDOC Commissioner Harold Clarke added PLN as an approved vendor; the litigation then proceeded on PLN’s damages claim.

The May 12 settlement provides that the MDOC will pay $5,000 to PLN, and that PLN “may distribute to ... inmates any of the publications it currently distributes,” subject to prison mail policies. The MDOC agreed to provide notice to all prison superintendents that prisoners may receive PLN’s publications, and to inform all Massachusetts state prisoners that they can order books from PLN. Further, prison officials agreed to notify PLN of the censorship of any future PLN publications sent to MDOC prisoners. As a result of the litigation the approved vendor scheme was scrapped.

“This is a victory for the First Amendment rights of publishers and a victory for Massachusetts prisoners,” said PLN editor Paul Wright.

PLN was ably represented by Boston attorneys Howard Friedman and David Milton with the Law Offices of Howard Friedman, P.C. See: Prison Legal News v. Clarke, USDC (D. Mass.), Case No. 1:08-10677-RGS. The settlement and complaint in the case are available on PLN’s website.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Clarke