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PLN Files Censorship Suit Against NYDOCS

On October 11, 2011, Prison Legal News filed suit against New York State Department of Correctional Services officials, including NYDOCS Commissioner Brian Fischer.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges First and Fourteenth Amendment violations related to the unconstitutional censorship of PLN’s monthly publication, books and correspondence at NYDOCS facilities statewide.

Specifically, PLN claims that the NYDOCS has an “unconstitutional policy of prohibiting inmates from receiving any and all books, magazines, letters and postcards distributed by Plaintiff, including letters from Plaintiff’s attorney...,” which “deprives Plaintiff, as well as its subscribers, of important First Amendment rights and serves no neutral, legitimate penological purpose.”

According to PLN’s complaint, NYDOCS maintains a list of “disapproved vendors” that are not allowed to send publications to prisoners and PLN has been placed on that list because it accepts payment for its monthly publication and books in the form of postage stamps. As a result, state prison officials unilaterally censor “PLN’s monthly publications, books, subscription renewal letters, fundraising letters, informational brochures, routine subscription inquiry postcards and even letters from PLN’s attorney.”

“The actions of the New York Department of Correctional Services are unconstitutional, and blatantly so,” said PLN editor Paul Wright. “State prison officials are using pretextual excuses to censor our publication and books, which inform prisoners how to vindicate their few remaining rights. The government should not be in the business of restricting what people can read even if those people are incarcerated.”

Bob Keach, one of the attorneys representing PLN, added that “DOCS is censoring all PLN publications, including publications that PLN provides to prisoners for free, such as the Prisoner Diabetes Handbook. The ban on PLN publications has nothing to do with accepting stamps and everything to do with precluding prisoners from learning the valuable information contained in PLN publications, including, not incidentally, how to sue DOCS when their rights are violated.”

PLN is seeking a declaration that NYDOCS’s policy of censoring reading material sent to New York state prisoners is unconstitutional, as well as injunctive relief, actual and punitive damages, attorney fees and costs.

PLN is represented by Amsterdam, New York attorney Elmer Robert Keach III and Human Rights Defense Center chief counsel Lance Weber. See: Prison Legal News v. Lee, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 7:11-cv-07118.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Lee