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PLN challenges Kansas DOC censorship

Topeka Capital-Journal, April 6, 2002.
PLN challenges Kansas DOC censorship - Topeka Capital-Journal 2002

Suit filed over prison magazine

1:49 a.m. 4/6/2002, Topeka Journal

The Associated Press

The Kansas Department of Corrections has been sued because it restricts prisoners' access to reading materials, specifically the Prison Legal News, a monthly magazine edited by a Washington state prisoner.

Bruce Plenk, representing the Prison Legal News, filed the lawsuit against the state Thursday in U.S. District Court in Topeka. The journal has won similar lawsuits in such states as Alabama and Washington.

"We're highly censored because we are a voice that prisons don't want in," said Donald Miniken, executive director of Prison Legal News.

The Prison Legal News was started in 1990 by prisoner Paul Wright. It covers prison-related news, including court decisions affecting prisoners, and doesn't advocate violence, Miniken said.

Kansas prisoners also have problems receiving other periodicals, Plenk said.

State regulations ban prisoners from receiving books, newspapers and magazines as gifts from family members or friends. The law also requires prisoners to pay for their own reading materials from their prison accounts. Inmates can spend no more than $30 per month for those materials.

A yearly subscription to Prison Legal News costs $18 a year. But many prisoners already take other publications, including hometown newspapers, and their monthly expense limits are easily reached, Plenk said.

Prison Legal News also has had a difficult time in Kansas getting sample copies mailed to prisoners.

"They send sample copies that get tossed and aren't delivered," Plenk said. "Then they don't notify the publisher. Most states allow such publications in. It's not an issue in most states."

Prison Legal News has a nationwide circulation of about 3,500, Miniken said. About 65 percent of its subscribers are prisoners, with the remainder going to judges, attorneys and others.

"There is simply no rationale for discouraging prisoners from reading," Miniken said. "Such regulations serve neither security or rehabilitative purposes."

Kansas corrections officials hadn't yet seen the lawsuit, spokesman Bill Miskell said.