Minnesota Prison Officials End Censorship of ACLU Publication After Threat of Lawsuit

May 27, 2005 12:00 am

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ST. PAUL, MN — The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded prison officials’ policy revision allowing Minnesota prisoners in segregation to receive publications containing legal material. The policy change came on the eve of the ACLU’s filing that would have challenged the censorship of the organization’s legal journal for prisoners.

“Access to legal information is the most fundamental tool that prisoners have to protect their rights,” said Teresa Nelson, an attorney for the ACLU of Minnesota. “Minnesotans value constitutional rights and the Department of Corrections’ move to lift this ban on legal information should be congratulated.”

Peter J. Orput of the Minnesota Department of Corrections officially notified the ACLU yesterday about the policy change. “I believe that this change in our segregation policy will assuage your concerns regarding the constitutional rights of segregation inmates to possess legal material,” wrote Orput.

At issue was a Minnesota Department of Corrections directive that “[o]ffenders on disciplinary segregation are not allowed subscription magazines/newspapers and publications.” The policy made no exception for legal publications; as a result officials censored the ACLU’s National Prison Project Journal and other legal magazines written for prisoners.

Since the censorship policy was announced last month, the ACLU and other organizations have received complaints from subscribers about the ban. Until this year, Minnesota prisoners who subscribed to legal publications received their copies without incident. The journals teach prisoners about their rights to adequate medical and mental health care, protection from abuse, and many other criminal justice related issues. Nationally, several thousand prisoners purchase subscriptions to these publications.

“Minnesota’s decision to reform its publication ban is the right one,” said David C. Fathi, an attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “Individuals confined in our nation’s prisons and jails have limited access to legal information and materials. Censoring the little information available about the Constitution and the protections it provides against abuse and mistreatment in prison stops prisoners from protecting themselves against unlawful treatment and conditions.”

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