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HRDC/PLN Obtain Landmark Nationwide Censorship Settlement with Private Prison Company

by Derek Gilna

On July 24, 2017, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization and publisher of Prison Legal News, entered into a settlement with private prison firm Management and Training Corp. (MTC), which has contracts to operate detention centers nationwide. The settlement agreement resolved what HRDC argued were First and Fourteenth Amendment violations with respect to sending publications to prisoners at the company’s facilities.

HRDC filed separate federal lawsuits alleging that MTC, a Utah corporation, had blocked the distribution of PLN books and other publications sent to prisoners at the company’s Otero County Prison Facility in New Mexico and North Central Correctional Complex in Ohio.

HRDC and PLN have published numerous articles critical of private prison companies like MTC, accusing them of engaging in the systematic violation of prisoners’ rights in their quest to generate profit. [See, e.g.: PLN, Feb. 2017, p.60; Dec. 2016, p.20; March 2011, p.24].

According to HRDC executive director Paul Wright, “MTC has a policy and practice of censoring the free speech of publishers and book distributors around the country. As a for-profit, private prison company, it is shameful that they are being paid by taxpayers to violate the First Amendment rights of publishers and prisoners alike.”

HRDC alleged that MTC’s “mail policy and practice bans books sent by PLN and other senders to prisoners at the Otero Prison because the books: (1) have not been pre-approved by Defendants; (2) the sender is not on an approved vendor list; and/or (3) were not purchased through the Otero Prison business office.... Defendants’ mail policy and practices violate PLN’s First Amendment right to free speech, and its Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process of law and equal protection.”

The settlement, which was reached shortly after HRDC’s second lawsuit was filed, provides that MTC will modify its mail policy to permit the delivery of unsolicited publications, including paperback books, magazines and newspapers, “regardless of the identify of the publisher, vendor, or distributor” and without using an approved vendor list. It also specifies an appeal process whereby prisoners can challenge the rejection of such publications, and provides that prisoners will receive notice if mail is censored due to institutional safety. MTC committed itself to additional staff training to ensure compliance with the terms of the settlement.

Further, the agreement requires MTC to pay $150,000 to HRDC for damages, attorney fees and litigation expenses. Notably, MTC also agreed to comply with the settlement terms at all of its privately-operated correctional and detention facilities nationwide – this is apparently a first for a for-profit prison company.

HRDC was ably represented by HRDC general counsel Sabarish Neelakanta, Laura Ives of Kennedy Kennedy and Ives in New Mexico, Alphonse Gerhardstein in Ohio and Bruce John with Davis Wright Tremaine in Seattle. The complaints and settlement are posted on PLN’s website. See: Prison Legal News v. Management and Training Corp., U.S.D.C. (D. NM), Case No. 2:16-cv-01174-KG-GBW and Human Rights Defense Center v. Management and Training Corp., U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ohio), Case No. 3:17-cv-01082-JJH.

If you are a PLN subscriber held in an MTC-operated facility and any publications or books sent by PLN are censored or withheld, please contact us immediately with documentation. We would like to thank the prisoners who alerted us to censorship problems at MTC facilities and provided us with copies of their grievances and complaints along with MTC’s responses, which confirmed their illegal and unconstitutional actions.  

 

Additional source: www.courthousenews.com

Related legal cases

Prison Legal News v. Management and Training Corp.

Human Rights Defense Center v. Management and Training Corp.


 

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