CA Court Says Prisoners Have First Amendment Right To Receive "Snail Mail" Printed From the Internet

September 11, 2002 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO–In a case that affects prisoners throughout the state, a federal judge today upheld the First Amendment right of a California prisoner to receive mail that contains material printed from the Internet.

“”It is absurd to classified mail as contraband simply because it was printed from an Internet site,”” said Ann Brick, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and lead counsel in a lawsuit filed against the Department of Corrections.

“”Denying prisoners the right to surf the Internet is one thing, but denying them the ability to receive copies of material from the Internet is completely out of step with the way people communicate with each other and obtain information today.””

The landmark case, Clement v. California Department of Corrections was brought on behalf of Pelican Bay prisoner Frank Clement by the ACLU of Northern California and the San Quentin-based Prison Law Office. Clement’s challenge to the California Department of Corrections’ policy came one year after another Pelican Bay inmate lost a similar challenge at the state court level.

According to the ACLU’s complaint, under the policy a prisoner was allowed to receive a clipping of a story from The New York Times by mail, but not a copy of an identical story from the newspaper’s website. The policy also prohibited prisoners from receiving printed copies of e-mail from a family members but allowed for a handwritten version of the same message.

As a result of today’s ruling, the California Department of Corrections is barred from “”enforcing any policy prohibiting California inmates from receiving mail that contains Internet-generated information.”” Today’s ruling will affect policies currently in place at San Quentin State Prison, Avenal State Prison, California Correctional Center in Susanville, California Correctional Institute in Tehachapi, California State Prison, Sacramento, Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, and Wasco State Prison.

In a related case, the ACLU’s National Prison Project and its Arizona affiliate recently filed a lawsuit in Arizona federal district court seeking to invalidate a state law that bans all information about Arizona prisoners from the global Internet.

Robert Mittelstaedt of the law firm of Pillsbury Winthrop served as cooperating attorney in the case.

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