PLN Settles Censorship Suit against GEO Group at Indiana Prison
In August 2015, Prison Legal News settled a federal lawsuit against The GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest for-profit prison company, over First Amendment violations at the New Castle Correctional Facility in Indiana.
PLN filed the suit in November 2014 against GEO Group and New Castle Superintendent Keith Butts. According to the complaint, GEO had censored at least ninety issues of PLN’s monthly publication mailed to prisoners at the facility, allegedly because “Prison Legal News contains advertisements from companies that provide pen-pal services to prisoners,” and “[t]he Indiana Department of Correction has a policy, applicable to New Castle, prohibiting prisoners from participating in pen-pal services.”
However, noting that state prisons in Indiana did not censor its publication, PLN argued that GEO’s policy “has no rational basis as many publications that prisoners are allowed to receive contain advertisements promoting the sale of items and/or services that the prisoners cannot access.” Additionally, GEO Group had failed to provide notice of its rejection and censorship of PLN’s monthly publication.
PLN sought monetary damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief plus attorney fees and costs. On January 22, 2015, the district court entered a consent injunction after GEO agreed not to enforce the policy related to pen-pal ads while the case remained pending.
The consent injunction stated that “Defendants are enjoined from rejecting Prison Legal News at the New Castle Correctional Facility and from preventing prisoners at the facility from receiving the publication on the basis that it contains advertisements for goods or services, otherwise lawful, which are prohibited by DOC rules.” The consent injunction also required GEO Group to provide notice when publications sent to prisoners are rejected, to notify prisoners of the injunction and to train mailroom staff as to the terms of the injunction.
“PLN’s publication has been censored many times for a variety of reasons,” stated PLN editor Paul Wright. “Invariably, as in this case, those reasons are a pretext. Prison officials do not like our content, which informs prisoners about their legal rights. But the government – including private government contractors such as GEO Group – cannot censor publications just because they don’t like what they say.”
GEO Group agreed to settle the lawsuit; as part of the settlement, the company agreed to pay $50,000 in damages, attorney fees and costs within 15 days. In its August 17, 2015 order of dismissal, the district court said that pursuant to the settlement agreement it would continue to retain jurisdiction over the consent injunction entered in January 2015.
PLN was represented by attorneys Kenneth J. Falk and Gavin M. Rose with the ACLU of Indiana, as well as HRDC general counsel Lance Weber and staff attorney Sabarish Neelakanta. See: Prison Legal News v. The GEO Group, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ind.), Case No. 1:14-cv-01957-JMS-DKL.
Sources: HRDC press release (Sept. 8, 2015), Indiana Public Media
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Related legal case
Prison Legal News v. The GEO Group
|U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ind.), Case No. 1:14-cv-01957-JMS-DKL