Publisher Sues Corrections Corporation of America Over Censorship of Books Sent to Prisoners

September 2, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

 

Phoenix, AZ – Prison Legal News (PLN), a non-profit monthly publication that reports on criminal justice-related issues, filed suit today in U.S. District Court against Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation's largest for-profit prison firm. PLN contends that CCA violated its rights under the First Amendment and the Arizona Constitution by censoring books sent to prisoners at the company's Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona.

"Publishers have a well-established First Amendment right to send their publications and books to prisoners," said PLN editor Paul Wright, "and CCA, which has been in the prison business for more than 25 years, should have been well aware of that right."

According to PLN's complaint, the Saguaro prison, which holds prisoners from Hawai'i and Washington state, maintains a policy that prohibits the receipt of books from PLN. PLN sells approximately 40 book titles, which include self-help books, educational books and books on criminal justice topics. In 2008 and 2009, at least six Saguaro prisoners were prohibited from receiving books from PLN or informed they could not order from PLN.

"Prison officials do not have the right to censor books and magazines simply because they dislike the publisher," said lead counsel Sanford Jay Rosen, of the San Francisco-based law firm of Rosen, Bien & Galvan, LLP. "The actions of the CCA officials are not only unconstitutional, but make it more difficult for publishers and the media to gain access to prisoners and for prisoners to receive information that can  assist them in making a successful transition to society after prison."

As justification for such censorship, CCA employees stated that PLN was an "unapproved vendor" and claimed that books ordered from PLN constituted "a serious danger to the security of the facility." Additionally, CCA failed to notify PLN that its books were being censored, in violation of PLN's right to due process.

"The actions by CCA continue longstanding patterns of arbitrary decisions by prison administrators based on their convenience, without regard to the rights and needs of prisoners and publishers alike," added ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda, who is serving as co-counsel on this case.

The Saguaro facility reportedly has a policy that requires prisoners to order books from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com. CCA also has a policy that prohibits prisoners' family members from purchasing books and publications on their behalf. In addition to naming CCA as a defendant in the suit, the complaint also names Daren Swenson, CCA's regional manager in Arizona; Todd Thomas, the warden at Saguaro; and Saguaro's assistant warden and chief of security.

The case is Prison Legal News v. Corrections Corp. of America, U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, Case No. 2:09-CV-01831-ROS. In addition to Rosen and Pochoda, PLN also is represented by Blake Thompson of Rosen, Bien & Galvan, LLP and PLN General Counsel Dan E. Manville in Ferndale, Michigan.

Prison Legal News (PLN), founded in 1990 and based in Seattle, Washington, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. PLN publishes a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners' rights and criminal justice issues.

PLN has almost 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a Web site (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents. PLN is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center.

The complaint is attached and available on-line at: www.acluaz.org.

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