ACLU Asks Federal Judge To Immediately Block Enforcement Of South Carolina Jail Policy Banning Books And Newspapers

May 4, 2011

Policy Results In Unconstitutional Censorship

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

CHARLESTON, SC – The American Civil Liberties Union today asked a federal judge to immediately block enforcement of a policy at a South Carolina jail that effectively bans many books, magazines and newspapers from being sent to prisoners.

In a motion seeking an order enjoining the ban, the ACLU charges that officials at the Berkeley County Detention Center in Moncks Corner, S.C. are unconstitutionally refusing to allow prisoners to receive any materials that contain staples or pictures of any level of nudity, including beachwear or underwear.

“This is nothing more than an excuse by jail officials to ban books and magazines for no good reason,” said David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “There is no justification for denying detainees access to periodicals and in the process cutting them off from the outside world.”

After the ACLU filed a lawsuit last year challenging an unconstitutional policy at the jail barring all books, magazines and newspapers – except for the Bible – from being sent to prisoners, jail officials responded by claiming they only banned materials containing staples and any degree of nudity. But as the ACLU points out in its motion, jail officials were selling detainees legal pads with staples in them at the jail commissary even as they were claiming to ban publications with staples as a supposed security risk.

“Jail officials are looking for any excuse they can come up with to obscure the fact that they are unconstitutionally censoring materials sent to detainees,” said Victoria Middleton, Executive Director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “And in so doing they are failing to serve the detainees and the taxpayers of South Carolina. Helping prisoners rehabilitate themselves and maintain a connection to the outside world by reading books and magazines is a key part of what should be our larger and fiscally prudent objective of reducing the number of people we lock up by lowering recidivism rates.”

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 charges that jail officials violate 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.

The ACLU lawsuit charges that since 2008, copies of Prison Legal News and other books sent to detainees at Berkeley County have been returned to sender. The books rejected by the jail's officials include "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.

There is no library at the Berkeley County Detention Center, meaning that prisoners who are incarcerated for extended periods of time have been deprived of access to magazines, newspapers and books – other than the Bible – for months or even years on end.

A federal judge on Tuesday granted a request by the U.S. Department of Justice to stand alongside Prison Legal News as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Justice Department officials argue the jail’s policy violates both the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), a law passed by Congress in 2000 to protect the religious rights of prisoners and other institutionalized persons.

Prison Legal News, which provides information about legal issues such as court access, disciplinary hearings, prison conditions, excessive force, mail censorship, prison and jail litigation, visitation, telephones, religious freedom, prison rape and the death penalty, 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.

"It is unfortunate that rather than respect the rights of publishers to communicate with prisoners the jail continues to try to defend the indefensible by banning our books and magazines," said Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News.

A copy of today’s motion is available online at: www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/motion-seeking-judicial-order-blocking-sou...

A copy of the lawsuit is available online at: www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/prison-legal-news-et-al-v-berkeley-county-...

Additional information about Prison Legal News is available online at: www.prisonlegalnews.org
 

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