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PLN Files Censorship Suit Against Cook County, Illinois

On June 30, 2016, Prison Legal News filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff Thomas J. Dart and Cook County jail officials, alleging they unconstitutionally censored PLN’s monthly publication and books mailed to prisoners at the jail.

According to the complaint, the Cook County jail had a policy and practice of banning incoming newspapers and other newsprint publications. Although the newsprint ban was declared unconstitutional in Koger v. Dart, 114 F.Supp.3d 572 (N.D. Ill. 2015), the jail continued to ban PLN and the softcover books that PLN distributes (which are not newsprint).

The complaint alleged that PLN mailed at least 112 issues of its 72-page monthly publication to subscribers at the Cook County jail and none were delivered. PLN also mailed 17 copies of a softcover book on correspondence courses to prisoners at the facility, yet all were withheld. Since the ruling in Koger, the jail had reportedly allowed some publications in but continued to censor PLN’s publications.

PLN argued that such censorship violated its and other publishers’ First Amendment right to communicate with prisoners at the jail and the prisoners’ right to communicate with them. Because the jail failed to provide PLN with notice of the censorship and an opportunity to appeal, the defendants also violated PLN’s due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. And by allowing some publications to be delivered to prisoners while censoring PLN’s, the defendants violated PLN’s equal protection rights.

PLN also moved for a preliminary injunction to require jail officials to deliver its publications pending resolution of the case. The district court denied the motion on November 21, 2016, noting that the jail had instituted a “mail room policy change in September 2016 that purportedly made Prison Legal News available to inmates in common areas and/or the law libraries, or possibly by subscription.” Due to unclear evidence, the court wrote that it “simply cannot be certain at this juncture that protected speech is being restricted” based on the revised mail policy. The case remains pending.

PLN is represented by Chicago attorneys Jonathan Loevy, Arthur Loevy and Matthew Topic with the law firm of Loevy & Loevy, as well as Human Rights Defense Center general counsel Sabarish Neelakanta. See: Prison Legal News v. County of Cook, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:16-cv-06862; 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 160780. 

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. County of Cook