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Prison Legal News Sues Arizona Jail Over Restrictive Mail Policy

On September 7, 2011, Prison Legal News, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona (ACLU) and the law firm of Rosen, Bien & Galvan, LLP, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a Pinal County, Arizona jail policy that prohibits prisoners from receiving any magazines, hardcover books or letters of more than one page in length.

The lawsuit, which was filed against the county and Sheriff Paul Babeu, argues that the “postcard-only” mail policy amounts to censorship and prevents prisoners from receiving Prison Legal News and other reading material.

“Publishers have a well-established First Amendment right to send their publications and books to prisoners, and it is unfortunate that rather than respect the rights of publishers to communicate with prisoners Sheriff Babeu continues to try to defend the indefensible by banning our books and magazines,” said PLN editor Paul Wright.

According to the complaint, paperback books (limited to 3) are the only exception to the jail’s mail policy and they must be sent from “an approved publisher.” Over a six-month period, Pinal County jail officials refused to deliver several PLN publications, including Prison Legal News and other informational brochures, citing “not allowed,” “only 1-page letters allowed” or “not from an approved publisher,” and also failed to deliver copies of PLN’s paperback books. Those publications provide prisoners with information on matters of concern, ranging from addressing their basic health and safety needs to litigating civil rights claims.

“As implemented by Sheriff Babeu, the postcard-only policy is clearly unconstitutional and serves as an excuse to censor books and magazines for no good reason,” stated ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda. “Jail officials who are serious about lowering recidivism and increasing public safety recognize that cutting inmates off from the outside world and denying them access to periodicals is counterproductive.”

PLN is asking the court to order Sheriff Babeu to cease the unconstitutional practice of censoring PLN and limiting prisoner mail to short messages on postcards, and to compensate PLN for past and continuing injuries caused by such censorship. In addition to Dan Pochoda, PLN is represented by Ernest Galvan and Kenneth M. Walczak of Rosen, Bien & Galvan, LLP in San Francisco, and Lance Weber, in-house counsel for the Human Rights Defense Center, PLN’s parent organization. See: Prison Legal News v. Babeu, U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:11-cv-01761-GMS.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Babeu