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PLN Files Censorship Suit Against Michigan Jail over “Postcard Only” Policy

On August 9, 2011, Prison Legal News filed a federal lawsuit against Livingston County, Michigan and the county’s sheriff, Bob Bezotte, alleging First and Fourteenth Amendment violations due to improper censorship at the Livingston County Jail. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division.

PLN claims that the county has “adopted and implemented written mail policies and practices that unconstitutionally restrict correspondence to prisoners via postcards only....” Livingston County is one of several jurisdictions that have adopted mail policies that only allow prisoners to send or receive correspondence via postcards. Such policies have been successfully challenged in other states. [See the article in this issue of PLN concerning a postcard policy at a jail in Boulder County, Colorado].

According to PLN’s complaint, PLN sent sample copies of its monthly publication, as well as a book titled Protecting Your Health and Safety, and subscription and book flyers, to fifty-six prisoners at the Livingston County Jail between January 17 and June 15, 2011. All of PLN’s correspondence was censored pursuant to the facility’s postcard-only policy.

The jail also censored legal mail sent to jail prisoners by Human Rights Defense Center attorney Lance Weber, who attempted to investigate the censorship of PLN. When local counsel Brian Prain attempted to interview prisoners at the jail about the censorship he was refused access to the prisoners. PLN’s lawsuit states that restricting the ability of its attornies to investigate its free speech claims violates its free speech rights as well.

“Restricting the ability of prisoners – including many who have not been convicted and are presumed innocent – to effectively communicate with their families and other people outside the jail by limiting all correspondence to postcards is unconscionable,” said PLN editor Paul Wright. “The postcard-only policy also violates the rights of publishers, including PLN, to communicate with and distribute reading material to prisoners.”

PLN is seeking a declaration that the jail’s postcard-only policy violates PLN’s rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees and costs. The complaint further requests a preliminary injunction to prevent the defendants from “continuing to violate the Constitution.”

PLN is represented by HRDC general counsel Lance Weber and Michigan attorneys Thomas M. Loeb and Brian J. Prain. See: Prison Legal News v. Livingston County Sheriff Bob Bezotte, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mich.), Case No. 11-cv-13460.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Livingston County Sheriff Bob Bezotte