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$781 Settlement Paid to Oregon Prisoner Over Censorship of ‘Sexually Explicit’ Text Message

On July 21, 2021, the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) settled a suit filed by a state prisoner whose private text message to his intimate partner was flagged for violating prison policy because it contained the word ‘cum.’

After the prisoner, Liam O’Neil-Barrett, sent the message from Oregon State Correctional Institution (OSCI) on July 11, 2020, it was flagged by an algorithm in the software of CorrLinks, the messaging service. A review then found the message violated the prison’s prohibition on ‘sexually explicit language.’

According to prison guidelines, a finding of violation is warranted whenever a prisoner poses “a threat to the safety security and orderly operation of the facility and inmate rehabilitation.” Or, as the Executive Assistant to the Superintendent of OSCI put it, “Prisoners need to learn to use more than eight words.”

Eight months later, O’Neil-Barrett resent an identical text substituting the previous word with the similar but ‘medically appropriate’ term ‘semen.’ Prison officials deemed this ‘acceptable’ and allowed the text to be sent.

O’Neil-Barrett then filed a civil complaint pro se in state Circuit Court for the County of Marion on October 7, 2020, alleging that by flagging the original text message OSCI violated Article I, section 8 of the Oregon Constitution, which protects “the right to speak, write, or print freely on any subject whatever.”

DOC promptly settled the suit for $781, which included reimbursement of $281 in case filing fees, $500 in cash and it agreed to forgive $27.41 in debt the prisoner owed for postage. It then resent the text as it was originally written. DOC contracts for the prison’s e-mail service with ICS Corrections Inc. via CorrLinks. See: O’Neil-Barrett v. Oregon Dept of Corrections, Or. Cir. (Cty. Of Marion), Case No. 20CV35863 (2021). 

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Related legal case

O’Neil-Barrett v. Oregon Dept of Corrections, Or. Cir. (Cty. Of Marion)