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PLN sues San Juan County jail in Utah over publication ban

Deseret News, Jan. 1, 1999.
PLN sues San Juan County jail in Utah over publication ban - Deseret News 1999

Deseret News (Salt Lake City)

June 6, 1999, Sunday

San Juan inmates sue over mail policies

By Jim Rayburn
Deseret News staff writer

Inmates at another Utah jail have filed a federal lawsuit claiming jail policies banning catalogs, bulk mail and sexually-oriented magazines are unconstitutional.

Similar suits in the past have resulted in changed mail policies at jails throughout the state.

This time three San Juan County Jail inmates are suing San Juan County officials, saying the jail's mail policies violate their constitutional rights.

In the suit, filed Wednesday by civil rights attorney Brian Barnard, the inmates say the jail's policies are vague and provide no criteria or definition to inmates as to what is a catalog, what bulk mail can be refused and what is deemed sexually oriented. Inmates are also not notified when bulk mail is refused.

The suit also says the policies violate their First Amendment rights and rights to due process.

Steven Briggs, Richard Hanson and Robert Ferguson are seeking damages of $1 per day for each day the policies were enforced and a court order preventing the jail from continuing the mail policies. They are also asking that the suit be converted to class action status, which would add as plaintiffs all inmates subjected to the mail policies.

Barnard has represented inmates from other jails over the past few years who have sued over similar policies. Each time the suits were settled out of court, with the inmates getting a settlement and Barnard a substantial amount in attorney fees.

In 1992, a Utah State Prison inmate sued after prison officials denied him access to catalogs and a publication called Prison Legal News. The state settled last year by paying Barnard $20,000 and clarifying its bulk mail and catalog policies.

In 1997, inmates again sued when prison officials banned sexually oriented magazines, contending the prohibition was needed to keep the material from sex offender inmates. The state settled by paying Barnard $15,000 and changing the policy.

The magazines are no longer barred at the prison, but sex offenders at the prison who view the magazines can be denied therapy, which could result in longer sentences.

Last year, Davis County Jail inmates sued over a policy banning magazines that contained nudity. That suit was settled by paying Barnard $57,000 and 102 inmates $1 per day for each day spent in jail under the policy, amounting to about $12,000.

Box Elder County also changed its policy and paid Barnard $2,200 in legal fees to settle a suit filed by a jail inmate there over mail policies.

Prisons in California, Washington and Oregon have policies banning sexually oriented magazines. Officials from those states say the policies are needed for security reasons and to prevent prison rapes.