American Civil Liberties Union Lawsuit Charged Ban on Books, Magazines and Other Periodicals was Unconstitutional
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CHARLESTON, SC – Officials at a South Carolina jail today agreed to stop barring prisoners from accessing books, magazines, newspapers and other periodicals as part of an agreement to settle an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit.
Jail officials in Berkeley County also agreed to no longer enforce a policy banning any publication bound with staples and a policy banning materials containing any level of nudity, which a jail mailroom officer said would include newspapers with lingerie advertisements or magazines containing pictures of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.
“Systematically preventing prisoners from reading books, magazines or newspapers is unconstitutional, serves no penological purpose, and we are pleased to know the rights of prisoners will now be protected,” said David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “Prisoners are not stripped of foundational constitutional rights simply because they are incarcerated, and there is no justification for shutting them off from the outside world.”
Filed on behalf of Prison Legal News, a monthly journal on prison law distributed across the nation to prisoners, attorneys, judges, law libraries and other subscribers, the ACLU’s lawsuit charged that jail officials violated the rights of Prison Legal News under the speech, establishment and due process clauses of the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution by refusing to deliver copies of the journal and other magazines and books to detainees.
Prison Legal News, which provides information about legal issues such as court access, prison conditions, excessive force, mail censorship and prison and jail litigation, has been published since 1990 and has about 7,000 subscribers across the country. It also distributes various books aimed at fostering a better understanding of criminal justice policies and allowing prisoners to educate themselves in areas such as legal research, how to write a business letter and health care in prison.
The ACLU lawsuit charged that beginning in 2008, copies of Prison Legal News and other books sent to detainees at Berkeley County had been returned to sender, or simply discarded. The books rejected by the jail's officials included "Protecting Your Health and Safety," which is designed to help prisoners not represented by an attorney, and explains the legal rights inmates have regarding health and safety – including the right to medical care and to be free from inhumane treatment.
“Providing prisoners access to books, magazines and newspapers is a critical part of aiding their successful transition back into society and limiting recidivism,” said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “Unconstitutional censorship has no place in our prisons and jails.”
A copy of today’s settlement is available online at: www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/prison-legal-news-et-al-v-berkeley-county-sheriff-et-al-consent-injunction
A copy of the lawsuit is available online at: www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/prison-legal-news-et-al-v-berkeley-county-sheriff-et-al-complaint