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PLN files suit against Texas DOC over book censorship

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2009.
Press release - PLN files suit against Texas DOC over book censorship 2009


Prison Legal News – For Immediate Release

November 4, 2009


Corpus Christi, TX – Prison Legal News (PLN), a non-profit monthly publication that reports on criminal justice-related issues, filed suit today in federal district court against Brad Livingston, Executive Director of the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), and other TDCJ officials.

According to PLN’s complaint, TDCJ has inappropriately censored books sent to Texas state prisoners. One of the censored books was Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System, by Silja J.A. Talvi. Ms. Talvi is an accomplished journalist and award-winning author. Her book on incarcerated women was described by one reviewer as a "comprehensive and passionately argued indictment of the inhumane treatment of female prisoners ... the sort of shocking expose too seldom seen in these media days of so much celebrity fluff." Two other Texas prisoners also were not allowed to receive Women Behind Bars after placing book orders with PLN.

PLN contends that the censorship of Women Behind Bars, which was upheld by senior prison officials, was improper. Further, the TDCJ did not notify PLN of the censorship decision which would have provided PLN an opportunity to respond and contest that decision.

TDCJ staff also censored another book ordered from PLN, The Perpetual Prisoner Machine: How America Profits from Crime, by Joel Dyer, on the basis that the book mentions "rape." In fact, as PLN explains in its federal complaint, Perpetual Prisoner Machine "quotes from a 1968 Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office investigation into sexual assault in prison, and describes crimes committed against prisoners." Again, the TDCJ did not notify PLN of this censorship.

"It is a sad commentary when government officials censor books sent to prisoners – particularly books that deal with prisoners’ rights and conditions in our nation’s prisons," stated PLN editor Paul Wright. "Apparently, the TDCJ prefers that prisoners remain uninformed about issues that directly affect them. We believe this is a poor rationale for censorship."

"For decades, Texas prisoners have had the right to read most books while they are incarcerated," said Scott Medlock, Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s Prisoners’ Rights Program. "If there is anything everyone should be able to agree on, it’s that encouraging prisoners to read is a good thing."

PLN is seeking compensatory, punitive and nominal damages plus declaratory and injunctive relief for violation of its rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as attorney fees and costs.

The case is Prison Legal News v. Livingston, U.S. District Court (S.D. Texas, Corpus Christi Division), Case No. 2:09-cv-00296. PLN is ably represented by Scott Medlock with the Texas Civil Rights Project and by HRDC general counsel Daniel E. Manville in Ferndale, Michigan.

Prison Legal News (PLN), founded in 1990 and based in Seattle, Washington, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. PLN publishes a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has almost 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website ( that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents. PLN is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center.

For further information, please contact:

Paul Wright
Prison Legal News, Editor
P.O. Box 2420
West Brattleboro, VT 05303
(802) 275-8594 or
(802) 257-1342

Scott Medlock, Attorney
Texas Civil Rights Project
1405 Montopolis Dr.
Austin, TX 78741
(512) 474-5073