The suit contends that Sheriff Stolle and employees at VBCC, which is the largest jail in the Commonwealth of Virginia, “have disapproved or refused to deliver publications that contain constitutionally protected speech.”
According to the complaint, PLN mailed numerous publications to VBCC prisoners – including sample issues of Prison Legal News, book and subscription brochures, a self-help book entitled “Protecting Your Health and Safety,” and copies of court rulings.
Beginning in April 2012, VBCC officials began rejecting and returning dozens of publications sent to prisoners by PLN. Some of the returned publications were stamped “not here” even though “a check of the prisoner subscriber’s custody status revealed them to be in custody at VBCC at the time....” Issues of PLN were rejected because they allegedly included ads with “sexually explicit material,” although the ads did not contain any nudity or depictions of sex acts. Staff at VBCC also stated that “ordering forms with prices, catalogs [and] brochures” were not allowed at the jail. PLN received only one mail rejection form from VBCC, while at least 67 pieces of correspondence were censored and returned by jail employees.
“Government officials, including those in the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office, should not be in the business of unconstitutionally censoring the publications citizens can read, even if those citizens are incarcerated – including those who have not been convicted and are ‘presumed innocent,’” said PLN editor Paul Wright. “This violates both prisoners’ rights and our rights as a publisher to communicate with people held in confinement.”
Sheriff Stolle defended the censorship practices at VBCC, citing ads in PLN for pen pal services and “racy photos”; he also complained that PLN did not pursue administrative remedies prior to filing suit – though PLN was under no obligation to do so, since the Prison Litigation Reform Act does not apply to non-prisoners.
PLN’s lawsuit, which remains pending, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief as well as damages, attorneys’ fees and costs. PLN is represented by Charlottesville attorneys Jeffrey E. Fogel and Steven D. Rosenfield, and Human Rights Defense Center general counsel Lance Weber. The case is Prison Legal News v. Stolle, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Vir.), Case No. 2:13-cv-00424-MSD-DEM.
Additional source: Washington Post
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Related legal case
Prison Legal News v. Stolle
|U.S.D.C. (E.D. Vir.), Case No. 2:13-cv-00424-MSD-DEM