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CCA Pays $70,000 in Damages, Attorney Fees to Settle PLN Censorship Suit

On June 7, 2010, Prison Legal News announced that it had settled a federal censorship suit against Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), the nation’s largest private prison company.
PLN filed the lawsuit in September 2009, claiming that CCA’s Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona only allowed prisoners to order books from Amazon or Barnes & Nobles under the facility’s mail policy in effect at the time. [See: PLN, May 2010, p.12].

PLN argued that its inability to send books to prisoners at the CCA prison violated its rights under both the First Amendment and the Arizona Constitution. PLN sells over 40 book titles, including self-help books, dictionaries, educational books and books on legal topics (see pp.53-54 for PLN’s book list).

CCA staff claimed books sent to prisoners by PLN constituted “a serious danger to the security of the facility,” and said PLN was an “unapproved vendor.” CCA also failed to notify PLN that its books were being censored, and prohibited prisoners’ family members from purchasing books and other publications on their behalf.

CCA changed its mail policy at Saguaro soon after PLN filed suit and agreed to settle the case in March 2010. The settlement was finalized in early June. As part of the settlement, CCA agreed that PLN will not be placed on a prohib-ited vendor list, nor will PLN be subject to a blanket ban by prison staff. Further, prisoners at Saguaro will be allowed to receive books and publications ordered by their family members or other third parties, CCA must post notices of the settlement at the Saguaro facility in areas where prisoners can read them, and CCA has to notify PLN of future censor-ship.

The settlement will be enforceable by the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona for a period of 18 months end-ing on December 5, 2011. CCA also agreed to pay $70,000 to PLN in damages, attorney’s fees and costs.

“It is always unfortunate when corrections officials ignore the First Amendment by prohibiting publishers from sending books to prisoners,” stated PLN editor Paul Wright. “This settlement will ensure that CCA employees respect our rights, and that prisoners and their family members can order books from PLN and other publishers. As the nation’s largest pri-vate prison company, CCA should have known better than to censor our books and violate our rights.”

“The fundamental right to send and receive written material is basic for an informed society,” added Dan Pochoda, Legal Director of the ACLU of Arizona. “[Prison] administrators too often act as if prisoners check their constitutional pro-tections at the prison door, and the ACLU was pleased to assist PLN in challenging that view in this case.”

PLN was represented by attorneys Ernest Galvan, Sandy Rosen and Blake Thompson with the San Francisco law firm of Rosen, Bien & Galvan, LLP, and Daniel Pochoda with the ACLU of Arizona. See: Prison Legal News v. Corrections Corp. of America, U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:09-cv-01831-PHX-ROS.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Corrections Corp. of America