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PLN Files Censorship Suit Against Nevada DOC

On June 27, 2013, Prison Legal News filed suit in U.S. District Court against Nevada Department of Corrections (DOC) Director James G. Cox and other defendants, seeking to enjoin unconstitutional censorship by state prison officials.

The lawsuit contends that the Nevada DOC has engaged in “unlawful censorship of books, magazines and other correspondence” mailed by PLN to Nevada prisoners through the enforcement of DOC policies that 1) prohibit the use of address labels on magazines, 2) ban publications not sent from “approved vendors or publishers” and 3) ban books not sent via First Class mail.

“These policy restrictions are simply proxies used to justify illegal censorship by prison officials and have no connection with legitimate security-related interests,” said PLN editor Paul Wright. “Even in federal maximum-security prisons there is no policy against the use of address labels or restrictions on what class of mail must be used to send books to prisoners. Surely Nevada prison officials have more important things to do than implement such policies.”

According to the complaint, the Nevada DOC has designated only one vendor, Amazon, as an “approved vendor” to send reading materials to prisoners. PLN argues in its lawsuit that “A single source designated as the ‘approved vendor’ is unconstitutional, since there exist no alternative means of obtaining reading material from publishers such as PLN. Such a practice places a significant burden on publishers’ and inmates’ constitutional rights.”

PLN had previously sued the Nevada DOC over censorship issues, resulting in a September 2000 settlement and consent decree in which the state agreed that prisoners “shall be permitted to subscribe to the publications of their choice,” subject to specified security interests. [See: PLN, Oct. 2001, p.22; Sept. 2000, p.9].

In conjunction with its recently-filed lawsuit, PLN also filed a motion for order to show cause in the prior suit, seeking to hold the Nevada DOC in contempt for violating provisions of the state’s 2000 settlement by enacting and enforcing policies that have resulted in renewed censorship of PLN’s monthly publication and book orders sent to Nevada prisoners.

“The First Amendment does not end at the prison door,” noted Staci Pratt, one of the attorneys representing PLN. “Censorship of legal materials through the establishment of arbitrary procedural roadblocks does not comport with the Nevada Department of Corrections’ constitutional obligations.”

PLN’s lawsuit against the Nevada DOC seeks declaratory and permanent injunctive relief, as well as general, specific and punitive damages plus attorneys’ fees and costs. PLN is represented by Staci Pratt and Allen Lichtenstein, cooperating attorneys with the Nevada ACLU; Ernest Galvan with the San Francisco law firm of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld; and Human Rights Defense Center general counsel Lance Weber. See: Prison Legal News v. Cox, U.S.D.C. (D. Nev.), Case No. 3:13-cv-00346-HDM-WGC.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Cox