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PLN sues San Juan County jail in Utah over publication ban

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

The Associated Press State & Local Wire

June 7, 1999, Monday, BC cycle

Inmates sue San Juan County Jail for magazine ban


Three San Juan County Jail inmates have sued the county, claiming a ban on catalogs, bulk mail and sexually-oriented magazines is unconstitutional.

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

The suit claims that the jail's policies are vague and don't define what a constitutes a catalog, bulk mail and sexually oriented material. Inmates are also not notified when bulk mail is refused.

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 to be granted class action status, meaning all inmates subjected to the mail policies would be able to receive damages.

Civil rights attorney Brian Barnard, who filed the suit, has represented other inmates in similar challenges over the past few years. Each time the suits were settled out of court, with the inmates getting a settlement and Barnard a substantial attorneys fee.

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 ban was needed to keep the material from sex offenders. The state paid Barnard $15,000 and changed to policy to settle the suit.

The magazines are no longer barred at the prison, but sex offenders at the prison who view the magazines can be denied therapy that could potentially shorten their sentences.

Last year, Davis County Jail inmates sued over a ban on magazines containing nudity. That suit was settled by paying Barnard $57,000 and 102 inmates $1 for each day the policy was in effect, totaling about $12,000.

Box Elder County also changed its policy and paid Barnard $2,200 in legal fees to settle a suit over the jail's mail policies.

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