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$40,000 Settlement Reached in HRDC Challenge to Nebraska Prison Censorship Policy

by David M. Reutter

On June 10, 2022, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (DCS) agreed to pay $40,000 and make several policy changes to resolve a lawsuit filed by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), publisher of PLN, challenging the agency’s publications policy.

HRDC sued DCS in federal court for the District of Nebraska on February 25, 2022, alleging that DCS Policy 113.23 violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by prohibiting prisoners from ordering any book (1) that wasn’t obtained from Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller Company, a wholesaler of books and publications, or (2) that is a correspondence or college course book not available through Hamilton, or (3) that is a religious book not available through Hamilton. The policy specifically provided that “[a]ny book orders received from other than Edward R. Hamilton will be returned to sender.” HRDC had its publications rejected without notice and the packages returned without explanation other than a stamp that read “Refused.” [See: PLN, May 2022, pg. 34].

After the suit was filed, the parties reached their settlement agreement, which provides for a $40,000 payment to HRDC to satisfy its claims for “damages, attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses.” DCS also represented that it no longer has in effect the specific “Approved Vendor Policy” and that “it will not return to or reenact that policy in the future.”

DCS also said that HRDC is an approved vendor and that it will remain so without action under any future policy. It was also agreed that HRDC would receive notice of any determination that impacts its ability to send books to DCS prisoners or upon rejection of any of its publications that are sent, and that HRDC would also be provided opportunity to challenge any such determinations.

HRDC has published PLN since 1990 and Criminal Legal News since 2017, as well as numerous books of interest and value to prisoners. It was represented by in-house counsel Daniel Marshall and attorneys Richard P. Jeffries and Nathan D. Clark of Cline Williams Wright Johnson & Oldfather, L.L.P. in Lincoln. See: Human Rights Def. Ctr. v. Frakes, USDC, (D. Neb.), Case No. 4:22-cv-03028. 

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Related legal case

Human Rights Def. Ctr. v. Frakes