Prison Legal News Settles New Mexico Jail Suit for $235,000
by Derek Gilna
As many of our readers know, Prison Legal News is a strong proponent of breaking down barriers that restrict prisoners’ First Amendment rights. Jail officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Bernalillo County, New Mexico found that out the hard way after PLN filed suit in federal court accusing them of unconstitutionally prohibiting the “delivery of books ... to pre-trial detainees and other prisoners at MDC.” Rather than go to trial the county agreed to settle the case, paying $235,000 and modifying its unduly restrictive mail policy at the jail.
According to its complaint, filed in February 2015, “PLN engages in core protected speech and expressive conduct on matters of public concern, and its books cover topics such as the operation of prison facilities, prison conditions, prisoner health and safety, and prisoner rights. Plaintiff’s books ... contain political speech and social commentary, which are entitled to the highest protection afforded by the U.S. Constitution.”
PLN alleged that when censoring and rejecting books sent to prisoners at MDC, jail officials “failed to provide due process notice to PLN of the reason for rejecting PLN materials by, among other inadequacies, failing to explain the penological justification for their censorship decisions, failing to identify the specific mail policy they relied on, stating different reasons for censoring identical items of mail, and otherwise failing to give meaningful notice of the censorship.... At no time did Defendants provide an opportunity for PLN to appeal the rejection of its mail.”
This, PLN argued, had a “chilling effect” on the First Amendment rights of the prisoners confined at MDC, and also violated PLN’s right to communicate with prisoners at the facility.
Pursuant to the terms of the November 2015 settlement, jail officials will “deliver soft cover books sent through the mail directly to individual prisoners at MDC as long as the books are sent from publishers and other book distributors,” and will provide notice to both the sender and intended recipient when any books are censored, as well as an appeal process. The county also agreed to pay $235,000 to PLN in damages, attorneys’ fees and costs.
The district court will retain jurisdiction for the purpose of enforcing the settlement agreement. PLN was ably represented by attorneys Laura S. Ives with Kennedy Kennedy & Ives, LLC in Albuquerque; Bruce E. H. Johnson and Angela Galloway with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in Seattle, Washington; plus HRDC general counsel Lance Weber and staff attorney Sab Neelakanta. See: Prison Legal News v. County of Bernalillo, U.S.D.C. (D. NM), Case No. 1:15-cv-00107-JAP-WPL.
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login
Related legal case
Prison Legal News v. County of Bernalillo
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (D. NM), Case No. 1:15-cv-00107-JAP-WPL|