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PLN files censorship suit against New York Dept. of Correctional Services

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2011.
Press release - PLN files censorship suit against New York Dept. of Correctional Services 2011


Prison Legal News – For Immediate Release

October 11, 2011

Publisher Files Censorship Suit Against New York Dept. of Correctional Services

New York, NY – Prison Legal News (PLN), a non-profit monthly publication that reports on criminal justice-related issues and a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, today filed
a federal lawsuit against New York Department of Correctional Services officials, including NYDOCS Commissioner Brian Fischer.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges First Amendment violations due to unconstitutional censorship of PLN’s monthly publication, books and correspondence at NYDOCS facilities statewide.

Specifically, PLN claims that the NYDOCS has an "unconstitutional policy of prohibiting inmates from receiving any and all books, magazines, letters and postcards distributed by Plaintiff, including letters from Plaintiff’s attorney...," which "deprives Plaintiff, as well as its subscribers, of important First Amendment rights and serves no neutral, legitimate penological purpose."

According to PLN’s complaint, NYDOCS maintains a list of "disapproved vendors" that are not allowed to send publications to prisoners and PLN has been placed on that list because it accepts payment for its monthly publication and books in the form of postage stamps. As a result, state prison officials unilaterally censor "PLN’s monthly publications, books, subscription renewal letters, fundraising letters, informational brochures, routine subscription inquiry postcards and even letters from PLN’s attorney."

"The actions of the New York Department of Correctional Services are unconstitutional, and blatantly so," said PLN editor Paul Wright. "State prison officials are using pretextual excuses to censor our publication and books, which inform prisoners how to vindicate their few remaining rights. The government should not be in the business of restricting what people can read even if those people are incarcerated."

The attorney representing PLN, Bob Keach, a civil rights lawyer from Amsterdam, New York, further added that "DOCS is censoring all PLN publications, including publications that PLN provides to prisoners for free, such as the Prisoner Diabetes Handbook. The ban on PLN publications has nothing to do with accepting stamps and everything to do with precluding prisoners from learning the valuable information contained in PLN publications, including,
not incidentally, how to sue DOCS when their rights are violated."

PLN is seeking a declaration that the NYDOCS’s policy of censoring reading material sent to New York state prisoners is unconstitutional, as well as injunctive relief, actual and punitive damages, attorney fees and costs.

PLN is represented by Amsterdam, NY attorney Elmer Robert Keach III and Human Rights Defense Center chief counsel Lance Weber. The case is Prison Legal News v. William Lee, et al., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, White Plains Division, Case No. 7:11-cv-07118.


Prison Legal News (PLN), founded in 1990 and based in Brattleboro, Vermont, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC 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 around 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, Editor
Prison Legal News
P.O. Box 2420
Brattleboro, VT 05303
(802) 257-1342

Elmer Robert Keach III
1040 Riverfront Center
P.O. Box 70
Amsterdam, NY 12010
518-434-1718; 518-770-1558 fax