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PLN Challenges Postcard-only Policy at Jail in Knoxville, TN

PLN Challenges Postcard-only Policy at Jail in Knoxville, TN

by Alex Friedmann

On October 6, 2015, Prison Legal News filed suit in federal court against Knox County, Tennessee, Sheriff James “J.J.” Jones and the assistant chief deputy at the Sheriff’s Office, challenging mail restrictions at the Knox County Jail which, among other provisions, only allow prisoners to receive correspondence in the form of postcards.

PLN also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking the court to prohibit the defendants from “improperly censoring publications and correspondence mailed to prisoners at the Knox County Jail ... by Plaintiff and other senders pursuant to a postcard-only policy, publication ban, and arbitrary book size restriction,” and to enjoin jail officials from denying due process when publications are rejected.

According to PLN’s complaint, the Knox County Jail has censored at least 147 pieces of mail sent to prisoners since November 2014, including PLN’s monthly magazine, brochures and books. Not only were the mailings censored, but the jail failed to provide PLN with notice of the censorship or the reason why the correspondence was rejected, nor an opportunity to appeal.

The jail also imposes restrictions on books, including size (no larger than 6 by 9 inches); books cannot contain “obscene, offensive or questionable material,” and prisoners can only have two books at a time in their cells. Additionally, prisoners can keep just 10 postcards at any given time and cannot receive “internet printed material” without the approval of jail officials.

PLN’s lawsuit claims that, “Due to Defendants’ actions, Plaintiff has suffered damages, and will continue to suffer damages, including, but not limited to: the suppression of Plaintiff’s speech; the impediment of Plaintiff’s ability to disseminate its political message; frustration of Plaintiff’s non-profit organizational mission; the diversion of Plaintiff’s resources; the loss of potential subscribers and customers; and the inability to recruit new subscribers and supporters, among other damages.”

Consequently, PLN is seeking a preliminary injunction, declaratory relief and nominal, punitive, compensatory and presumed damages, plus attorney’s fees and costs. A jury trial is requested. When contacted by the Associated Press, a spokesperson for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment.

PLN is represented by Nashville attorneys Tricia R. Herzfeld, Elliott Ozment and Will York II; by Maryville attorney Gena Lewis; and by Human Rights Defense Center general counsel Lance Weber and staff attorney Sabarish Neelakanta. See: PLN v. Jones, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Tenn.), Case No. 3:15-cv-00452.

PLN has successfully challenged postcard-only policies at a number of jails nationwide, and currently has a similar federal lawsuit pending against the Sullivan County Jail in Tennessee over that facility’s restrictive mail policy. [See: PLN, Nov. 2013, p.24].

Additional source: Associated Press

Related legal case

PLN v. Jones