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PLN's censorship suit against Florida prison system

Miami Herald, Jan. 1, 2011.
PLN's censorship suit against Florida prison system - Miami Herald 2011

Posted Nov. 17, 2011

Lawsuit accuses Florida prisons of censorship

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A federal lawsuit filed Thursday accuses the Florida Department of Corrections of censorship, claiming the agency blocked inmates from getting publications dealing with their legal rights.

The plaintiff, Prison Legal News, is being represented in the case by the American Civil Liberties Union and Florida Justice Institute. The lawsuit was filed in Miami.

The Vermont-based publication includes reviews of court rulings and news on prisoners' rights. The monthly magazine is affiliated with the nonprofit Human Rights Defense Center in Washington.

Corrections spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff said the department's legal staff will review the lawsuit once it is received.

The suit alleges all Prison Legal News publications, including self-help books, have been banned because the department objects to advertising content including pen-pal and three-way calling services, as well as the sale of postage stamps and inmate artwork.

"We believe that is entirely pretextual and an unjustified, exaggerated response that is being used to uphold unconstitutional censorship in violation of the First Amendment," Prison Legal News editor Paul Wright said in a news release.

Wright said government officials shouldn't decide what people are allowed to receive - even if they are in prison - unless that would pose a security risk.

This is the second time Prison Legal News has sued the department over this issue. Its lawsuit was dismissed in 2006 after the department changed its policy and began letting inmates receive the publication. The agency, though, reinstated the ban in 2008 even though Prison Legal News says it hasn't changed its content.

"This is about as clear a case of censorship as there can be," said ACLU Florida executive director Howard Simon. "Just because our client provides information for people who are incarcerated doesn't mean they forfeit their constitutional rights."

The publication's articles are written by legal scholars, lawyers, inmates and news services. It has about 7,000 subscribers across the nation.

Besides Corrections Secretary Kenneth Tucker, the lawsuit names as defendants wardens at the Everglades, Dade and Homestead correctional institutions.