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New Mexico Jail Sued by HRDC for Censoring Book Orders

by Derek Gilna

The Santa Fe County Correctional Facility in New Mexico, already cited by the U.S. Department of Justice for shoddy medical care and poor management, has been sued by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), publisher of Prison Legal News, for rejecting books sent to detainees at the jail.

The complaint, filed in federal district court on April 2, 2018, claims the defendants “unconstitutionally prohibit delivery of Plaintiff’s books to prisoners housed in the Santa Fe [jail] ... in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

PLN’s monthly publication apparently has been delivered to prisoners without being censored, but not so for book orders – which are sent back marked “return to sender.” According to the complaint, books rejected by jail officials have included The Habeas Citebook: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel, Protecting Your Health and Safety, Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook: A Guide to Correspondence Programs in the United States and Canada, and other titles related to vocational training.

As noted in the complaint, “The purpose of HRDC is to educate prisoners and the public about the destructive nature of racism, sexism, and the economic and social costs of prisons to society. HRDC accomplishes its mission through advocacy, litigation, and the publication and/or distribution of books, magazines, and other information concerning prisons and prisoner rights.”

The lawsuit alleges that “Defendants’ mail policies and practices violate HRDC’s First Amendment right to free speech.... [and] Defendants engage in a policy or practice that fails to provide senders of censored mail notice and an opportunity to appeal the censorship of the mail to the intended prisoner. Accordingly, such policy violates HRDC’s Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process.”

HRDC executive director Paul Wright stated that some jails “want to change their [mail] policy but only to let us in, not for all publishers, and that’s not acceptable to us. We want to make sure we lock these changes in and we don’t want to deal with the same problems over and over and over again.” He added the lawsuit was filed because “We haven’t met any defendants who are willing to agree to a consent decree or other enforceable settlement.”

HRDC is seeking a preliminary injunction to require the jail to stop enforcing its unconstitutional policy of rejecting books sent to prisoners. The case remains pending. See: Human Rights Defense Center v. Sante Fe County, U.S.D.C. (D. NM), Case No. 1:18-cv-00305-PJK-SCY.

The Sante Fe Correctional Facility was also recently sued in federal court after three detainees died, allegedly due to inadequate medical care. 

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Related legal case

Human Rights Defense Center v. Sante Fe County