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PLN sues Kansas DOC over censorship of reading material

Chattanooga Times Free Press, Jan. 1, 2002.
PLN sues Kansas DOC over censorship of reading material - Chattanooga Times Free Press 2002

Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)

April 6, 2002 Saturday

Kansas prison system sued by legal magazine

Mike Belt Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Prison Legal News magazine has about as much chance being distributed inside Kansas prisons as an inmate has crawling through razor wire.

That's why, prisoner advocates said, a Lawrence attorney Thursday filed suit in federal court against the Kansas Department of Corrections.

Bruce Plenk, representing Prison Legal News, is challenging state regulations that restrict prisoners' access to reading materials. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Topeka.
It's a battle Prison Legal News has won in states such 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.
But it isn't just the magazine that Kansas prisoners have problems receiving, Plenk said. A magazine such as Reader's Digest might have the same problem.

Kansas corrections regulations ban prisoners from receiving books, newspapers and magazines as gifts from family members or friends.
They also require prisoners to pay for their own reading materials from $30 per month for those materials.

Prisoners can subscribe to Prison Legal News for $18 a year. But many prisoners already take other publications, including hometown newspapers, and their monthly expense limit is easily expended, Plenk said.

One of the irritants Prison Legal News has faced in Kansas is its inability to get 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."

The magazine provides prisoners with legal news they can use and doesn't advocate violence, Miniken said.

Kansas corrections officials declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday. They had not yet received a copy of it, spokesman Bill Miskell said.

"When we get it, then we will deal with it," Miskell said.