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Federal District Court in Missouri Addresses Jail Newspaper Issue

A U.S. District Court in Western Missouri ruled in June 1980 on a § 1983 class action claim brought by Mark Alan Hutchings that alleged, among other things, First Amendment violations arising from the policy at Clay County Jail (CCJ) banning newspapers at the facility. A wide array of other Constitutional issues related to CCJ conditions and practices was brought before the court.

Most of the complaints stemmed from the fact that the county jail was built in 1927. The newspaper issue is one of them. As a response to perceived fire hazard in the old jail, no newspapers of any kind were permitted throughout the jail.

The court noted the generally accepted rule regarding access to newspapers among jail populations was to retain those First Amendment rights not inconsistent with prison security, order or rehabilitee. Defendants offered no rational response to the total enjoinment of newspapers that could be construed as an “alternative means” of complying with the constitutionally protected right.

Other issues addressed were: overcrowded conditions; lighting; ventilation; sufficient numbers of fire escape portals; and visiting facilities. Hutchings asserted lack of recreation opportunity, poor medical treatment, and staff indifference to prisoners’ immediate needs. He noted the lack of a legal library, and a general library too small to acknowledge.

The court ordered Clay County Jail officials to immediately permit newspapers at the facility, to comply with federal square-footage-per-prisoner standards within seven days, and to submit a plan within thirty days addressing all other issues found at trial.

The court retained jurisdiction. See: Hutchings v. Corum, 501 F. Supp. 1276 (W.D. Mo. 1980) Case No. 79-0600-cv-w-4.

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Related legal case

Hutchings v. Corum