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Cook County Jail’s Three Book Possession Policy Constitutional

by David M. Reutter

An Illinois federal district court granted summary judgment to Cook County in a civil rights action alleging a jail policy that limits its pretrial detainees to possession of three books violates the First Amendment.

The case has a “somewhat convoluted procedural history,” having been to the Seventh Circuit on appeal and was currently before the court after rehearing on Gregory Koger’s claim that a “constitutional violation occurred upon removal of the books from his cell and existed whether the books were destroyed, put in the jail library, or maintained and returned to him upon release.” See: Lyons v. Dart, 901 F.3d 828 (7th Cir. 2018).

The court began its analysis by citing precedent that holds that “Freedom of Speech is not merely freedom to speak; it is also freedom to read.”

It was clear that at some point guards confiscated more than 30 books from Koger without allowing him to choose which three books he wanted to keep, and he never saw those books again. This confiscation occurred as guards enforced jail policy that limited detainees to a total of three books or magazines, excluding religious material.

Jail officials asserted three rationales to support the policy: (1) safety and security, (2) sanitation, and (3) administrative convenience. The court agreed with the defendants “that the mere availability of other materials made of paper does not demonstrate the three-book policy is unjustified.”

In sum, the court found that the defendants asserted legitimate peneological justifications for the three-book policy. The court noted that Koger was “allowed to read an average of more than two books or magazines every single day” while at the jail, so he had an alternative means to exercise his right to read.

The court granted the defendants summary judgment, finding the released Koger was not entitled to the requested relief of nominal damages. See: Koger v. Dart, USDC, N.D. Illinois, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152878. 

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Related legal case

Koger v. Dart