Preliminary Injunction Entered in PLN Censorship Suit Against Ventura County, California
On May 29, 2014, in a significant victory for the First Amendment rights of prisoners and those who correspond with them, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted a preliminary injunction barring Ventura County’s jail system from enforcing a “postcard only” policy that prohibits prisoners from receiving mail in envelopes.
“We are very pleased the judge is upholding the constitution,” said Prison Legal News editor Paul Wright.
The preliminary injunction was the latest in a series of successful legal actions filed by PLN challenging unduly restrictive mail policies implemented in jails nationwide, which courts have repeatedly found are not justified by a rational penological purpose. [See: PLN, Jan. 2014, p.42; Nov. 2013, p.24; Sept. 2013, p.40].
After considering the parties’ arguments, the federal district court found that Ventura County’s “restrictive mail policies violate [PLN’s] First Amendment right to communicate with inmates,” and that the jail system’s “practice of rejecting mail without providing notice and an opportunity to appeal” violates the Fourteenth Amendment.
The court ordered the defendants to “suspend enforcement of the postcard-only policy for incoming mail within 21 days” and “give senders of rejected mail written notice and an opportunity to appeal the rejection decision.” Further, the jail “shall not reject mail for containing ‘suggestive’ content, Xeroxed material, or subscription order forms.”
The district court noted that “[p]ublishers have a First Amendment right to communicate with prisoners by mail,” citing Prison Legal News v. Lehman, 397 F.3d 692 (9th Cir. 2000).
In analyzing PLN’s motion for a preliminary injunction, the court applied the test set forth in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), examining four factors to determine whether a regulation is “reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.”
Although Ventura County cited security concerns to justify its postcard-only policy, the district court wrote that “our deference to the administrative expertise and discretionary authority of correctional officials must be schooled, not absolute.”
The court noted the county jail system had allowed prisoners to receive mail in envelopes until 2011, and had presented no evidence indicating it could not do so again because, as with letters, it still had to inspect postcards for contraband. Further, most other federal, state and county correctional facilities allow prisoners to receive mail in envelopes without compromising institutional security.
The district court held the county had not met its burden to show a rational basis for its postcard-only policy in light of the policy’s obvious impact on PLN’s First Amendment rights, citing Prison Legal News v. Columbia County, 942 F.Supp.2d 1068 (D. Or. 2013) [PLN, June 2013, p.42].
In granting the preliminary injunction, the court determined, based upon the evidence presented, that PLN was likely to prevail on the merits in the case – a clear victory for the First Amendment rights of not only prisoners and publications such as PLN, but also for the free-flow of information and correspondence between people who are incarcerated and their friends, family members and others on the outside.
PLN is represented by the San Francisco law firm of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld, LLP and attorney Brian Vogel. The case remains pending. See: Prison Legal News v. County of Ventura, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:14-cv-00773-GHK-E.
Additional source: Ventura County Star
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Related legal case
Prison Legal News v. County of Ventura
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:14-cv-00773-GHK-E|