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$75 Awarded for Magazine Denial; Access to Personal Law Books Denied

On January 3, 2001 a U.S. Magistrate judge upheld the denial of a prisoner's access to personal law books and awarded $75 for magazines denied by the unit.
Louisiana State prisoner Leo J. Schwartz, III was segregated over a month, where he was permitted to use a 1997 Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure book to assist his attorney in his criminal matters. When he transferred to general population, Lt. Oubre placed the manual in Schwartz's personal property, which Schwartz will receive upon his release from prison. According to Unit Warden, Schwartz, upon request, had access to his edition to use while in the law library.

Though the law library did not have the current year's edition of the Prisoner's Self-Help Manual, they did have the previous edition available in the law library. The warden did not say Schwartz could have access to his books, but that there were copies of them available in the law library. In Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 97 S.CT. 1491, 52 L.Ed.2d 72 (1977), the Supreme Court recognized that inmates are guaranteed access to courts under the constitution. Schwartz failed to prove that denial of access to books caused an actual injury or prejudiced his criminal case, for which he had an attorney, therefore his claim was dismissed.

St. John's Correctional Prison denied "The Free American" magazine to Schwartz. Prison officials claimed the magazine was racially motivated and as a result of safety concerns the magazine was denied. Per Unit policy, each magazine was reviewed and any deemed "subversive" were denied and returned to sender and inmate was notified of such. In Chriceol v. Phillips, 169 F.3d 313, 316 (5th Cir. 1999), court stated, "Prison mail policy restricting access as to potential violence producing material is valid." When the periodicals in question were reviewed by the court, no potential violent material was present. For the eighteen month magazine denial, the court awarded $75.00 in compensatory damages, the subscription rate for 18 months.

In the allegation of unsanitary living conditions due to inadequate toilet paper supply, Schwartz testified he went about ten days without toilet paper. According to Lt. Oubre, the unit supplies two rolls per inmate every Monday. However, the officer overseeing the distribution issued one roll and an additional roll can be obtained upon request when the inmate runs out. Because Schwartz never requested any toilet paper from anyone during the period he alleged and, no other prisoners complained, his claim was dismissed.

As a pretrial detainee, Schwartz alleged he was housed with DOC inmates, causing him tension. During cross-examination, Schwartz stated that he was not harmed by any DOC inmates, and he even volunteered for the "boot camp" program for five months with DOC inmates. Schwartz never complained to any administrative personnel of the housing problem, and according to the warden, he would have been moved if there was a threat. The court said classifying inmates and housing of pretrial detainees is an administrative function, therefore his claim was dismissed. See: Schwartz v. Jones, U.S.D.C. (E.D. La.), Case No. 2:99-cv-03269-CJB-SS.

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Related legal case

Schwartz v. Jones