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Coverage of PLN's suit against the Michigan DOC re book censorship

Ann Arbor News, Jan. 1, 1999.
Coverage of PLN's suit against the Michigan DOC re book censorship - Ann Arbor News 1999

Lawsuit challenges banning of book by prison officials

By Liz Cobbs, Staff Reporter

Ann Arbor News

February 8, 1999

The Michigan Department of corrections is being sued for censoring a book on prison life that officials worry would incite inmates to violence.

Ann Arbor attorney Dan Manville filed the class action lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court on behalf of Common Courage Press, the Monroe, Maine, publisher of "The Celling of America: An Inside Look At the U.S. Prison Industry," and Prison Legal News, a Seattle, Wash.-based magazine that sends the book to inmates. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Avern L. Cohn in Detroit.

Also named as plaintiffs are Larry Lynch, an inmate at Standish Maximum Correctional Facility in Standish, and Calvin Holmes, an inmate at the State Prison of Southern Michigan in Jackson. They both ordered a copy of the book at separate times last year but were not allowed by prison officials to receive it.

The MDOC placed "The Celling of America" on its "permanent restricted publication list" in August, saying the articles advocate "violence, insurrection or violation of rules."

Manville said the class-action suit is being filed on behalf of all publishers who want to send their information to the prison and on behalf of prisoners who want to order and read the materials.

"The First Amendment protects an outside person who wants to communicate ideas to people who are confined," Manville said. "It’s our publisher’s position that ideas will educate people and keep them informed with what’s going on in the world."

The complaint asks the court for a preliminary injunction to order MDOC to:

* Take the book off its "permanent restricted publication list."

* Send the book’s publisher a rejection notice and give the publisher time to respond.

* Allow prisoners to receive and read the book.

MDOC spokesman Matt Davis said the department does not comment on lawsuits. He did say that it is MDOC’s policy to notify prisoners and the sender that a publication has been rejected.

The plaintiffs, in their lawsuit, question MDOC officials’ reasoning for censoring the book. All but two of the book’s 49 essays were previously published in Prison Legal News (PLN) between 1993 and 1997.

"The MDOC itself has 'Prison Legal News' in its prison law libraries and makes it available to inmates," Manville said.