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PLN Settles Lawsuit Against Kenosha County, Wisconsin for $116,500

PLN Settles Lawsuit Against Kenosha County, Wisconsin for $116,500

by Derek Gilna

After 29 prisoners at a jail in Kenosha County, Wisconsin did not receive their monthly copies of Prison Legal News or informational brochures and soft-cover books mailed by PLN, PLN filed suit in federal court alleging First and Fourteenth Amendment violations by the Sheriff’s Office. According to Jon Loevy, one of the attorneys representing PLN, the county agreed to a settlement in May 2014 requiring it to pay damages and attorney’s fees, and to change its policy on publications sent to prisoners.

Loevy noted that county officials had reversed “an unconstitutional policy and [brought] it into compliance.” He added: “To their credit, rather than spending taxpayer money fighting a losing battle, they decided to make the policy compliant with the First Amendment.”

PLN had alleged in its June 27, 2013 complaint that the Kenosha County jail’s blanket ban on Prison Legal News and similar publications violated a “constitutionally protected liberty interest in communication with incarcerated individuals, a right clearly established under existing law.”

Shortly after PLN filed suit, Kenosha County began to backtrack on its policy, stating through a spokesman that “nothing was brought to [the county’s] attention until the lawsuit was brought. We immediately looked at [the policy], realized it was out of date and updated it to allow magazines and books with some restriction on content” – such as publications that pose a threat to the safety or security of the facility or that contain sexual or lewd content.

As part of the settlement, Kenosha County agreed not to implement “blanket bans” on books, magazines, newspapers or other publications sent directly to prisoners from publishers. Both prisoners and senders of rejected publications must receive written notice, as well as information on how to appeal censorship decisions. The county is also required to post the new policy at the jail and on its website, according to an Order of Stipulation and Dismissal entered pursuant to the settlement. Lastly, the county agreed to pay $116,500 in damages and attorney’s fees.

PLN was represented by the Chicago law firm of Loevy & Lovey and by Human Rights Defense Center general counsel Lance Weber. See: Prison Legal New v. Beth, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Wis.), Case No. 2:13-cv-00737-JPS.

PLN has long advocated that prisoners and detainees have the same First and Fourteenth Amendment rights as other citizens to receive written materials, subject to legitimate security concerns, and PLN has filed and won numerous lawsuits to protect those rights. [See, e.g., PLN, May 2010, p.8]. Without the ability to receive books and other publications, prisoners are denied access to information that can assist them while incarcerated and help them reintegrate into society following their release.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal New v. Beth