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Connecticut DOC Settles Calendar Lawsuit for $1,500, Policy Changes

The Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) has agreed to pay a $1,500 settlement in a lawsuit filed by state prisoner Jeremy Barney, who alleged his First Amendment right to receive publications was violated when the warden at Osborn Correctional Institution implemented a policy that prohibited prisoners from receiving calendars.

In his complaint, Barney claimed that on March 1, 2017, guard Eric Hart brought him a rejection notice for his Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell Fantasy Art Calendar, which had been ordered by his sister through a commonly used book distributor. When asked for a reason for the rejection, Hart explained the warden had banned all calendars.

Barney wrote to Warden Edward Maldonado that a ban on receiving calendars “violates the reasonable relationship standard set by the Turner v. Safley decision.” The warden responded that “all items have to be purchased through the commissary.”

Although Barney repeatedly informed prison officials that no calendars were sold on the commissary and that prisoners have a First Amendment right to receive publications, including calendars, his appeals were rejected at every stage of the grievance process.

After exhausting his administrative remedies, Barney filed a § 1983 civil rights complaint in state court on June 20, 2017. In response, Warden Maldonado argued that he had banned calendars because they were “posing various security concerns. Some calendars were quite large and could obstruct the views of officers, or be used as shields, and interfering with the ability of officers to see into cells and maintain safety.” He added that the calendar sent to Barney “was rejected because it came from an unauthorized source, and did not go to media for review.” Barney filed public records requests, which indicated there was no list of authorized vendors for publications, and that no safety or security incidents had been reported concerning calendar-related offenses for the 28 years Maldonado had been employed by the DOC.

After Barney moved for summary judgment, the DOC requested an extension of time and began settlement negotiations. Prison officials eventually agreed to revise their administrative directives to include “calendar” in the definition of what constitutes a publication, to allow the purchase of calendars by prisoners and their families, and to allow calendars to be displayed on the walls of cells or dorm units. As part of the June 2018 settlement, Assistant Attorney General Steven Strom provided Barney with two years of the calendar that had been rejected; the state also agreed to pay $1,500 in damages. See: Barney v. Maldonado, Superior Court, Judicial District of Hartford (CT), Docket No. HHD-CV-17-5045541-S. 

Related legal case

Barney v. Maldonado