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PLN Files Censorship Suit against Virginia Jail

PLN Files Censorship Suit against Virginia Jail

In September 2015, Prison Legal News filed a lawsuit in federal court against unconstitutional censorship practices at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center (NWADC) in Winchester, Virginia.

The suit names the Northwestern Regional Jail Authority, NWADC Superintendent James F. Whitley and other jail employees as defendants, and says the jail has “adopted and implemented mail policies that unconstitutionally prohibit delivery of publications to prisoners in their custody and do not afford senders of censored mail due process notice and an opportunity to challenge the censorship as required by the Constitution.”

According to the complaint, in February 2014, Superintendent Whitley issued a memo to jail staff stating that with the exception of “approved” religious and educational materials, “books and magazines will no longer be allowed in the facility through the mail, directly from the publisher, or from a distribution source.”

As a result of this policy, PLN’s monthly publication sent to prisoners at NWADC was censored at least 170 times from October 2014 to the date the lawsuit was filed; further, jail staff censored and withheld at least 41 legal self-help books mailed to prisoners, marking them “REFUSED: Per Jail Policy.” PLN did not receive notice of this censorship.

“The First Amendment does not include an exception for jails to prohibit prisoners – many of whom are awaiting trial and presumed innocent – from receiving reading materials such as books and magazines,” said PLN editor Paul Wright. “This is government censorship at its worst, and a clear example of First Amendment and due process violations.”

“It is a sad commentary that some of our jails and prisons will not let prisoners read. This case is particularly egregious since prisoners may not receive any books, magazines or newspapers,” added Jeffrey Fogel, one of PLN’s attorneys.

PLN is seeking nominal, compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive relief, and a declaration that the jail’s practices violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as attorney fees and costs. On September 23, 2015, PLN filed a motion for preliminary injunction asking the court to enjoin NWADC from enforcing its unconstitutional censorship policy while the case is pending.

PLN is represented by Charlottesville attorneys Jeffrey E. Fogel and Steven D. Rosenfield, plus HRDC general counsel Lance Weber and staff attorney Sabarish Neelakanta. The case is Prison Legal News v. Northwestern Regional Jail Authority, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Vir.), Case No. 5:15-cv-00061-EKD.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Northwestern Regional Jail Authority