ACLU Successfully Challenges Missouri Prison Censorship Policies

November 16, 2012

JEFFERSON CITY, MO —United States District Judge Nanette Laughrey granted a preliminary injunction yesterday that requires all Missouri prisons to notify senders whenever written materials they send are censored, seized and withheld from prisoners. The judge also ordered that after getting such notice, senders must have an opportunity to appeal the censorship.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri and the ACLU Foundation of Kansas & Western Missouri filed a lawsuit in August on behalf of Bobbie Y. Lane, owner of the publishing business named Caged Potential, against officials of the Missouri Department of Corrections. Starting in late 2010, Caged Potential received nine orders from inmates at Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri, for a prisoner-authored book. Crossroads mailroom staff seized the novels and refused to deliver them to the inmates but never gave Caged Potential notice that the books had been seized or an opportunity to challenge the seizures.

“Inmates and publishers were denied their constitutional right to communicate ideas because publishers weren’t given notice that the prison had seized or censored their publications and other mailings,” added Doug Bonney, legal director of the ACLU Foundation of Kansas and Western Missouri. “We successfully argued that without notice, someone who writes or sends a prisoner written material has no way of knowing that their communication has not reached its intended recipient and therefore they cannot appeal the decision to censor it,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri.

“This decision will have a significant positive impact not only for publishers, but for anyone who communicates with prisoners,” notes Brenda L. Jones, executive director of the ACLU-EM. “They’ll now know with certainty if their letters reach their intended recipients and have some recourse if they don’t.”

The case was tried in the United States District Court, Western District of Missouri, Central Division. The ACLU attorneys included Bonney, Rothert and Grant Doty. Copies of the court documents can be found on the ACLU-EM’s website.

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