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PLN files censorship suit against Upshur County, Texas jail

News Journal, Jan. 1, 2013.
PLN files censorship suit against Upshur County, Texas jail - News Journal 2013

Inmates rights publisher suing Upshur County Jail

Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 4:00 am | Updated: 7:48 am, Tue Jan 22, 2013.

By Glenn Evans

Publishers for a nonprofit inmate education group have sued the Upshur County Jail, where it says its magazine is being turned away.

Prison Legal News publishes a monthly magazine distributed nationwide to inmates, lawyers, judges and law libraries.

“The (U.S.) Constitution does not end at the prison walls,” legal news attorney Brian McGiverin said Monday, with a confession: “I’m quoting a Supreme Court case.”

The lawsuit, filed in the Marshall federal court of U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap on Nov. 26, complains that some of its monthly magazines and informational books have been returned from the Gilmer lockup.

Those included materials inmates have subscribed to, McGiverin said.

It says the county jail policy on publications does not provide criteria for rejecting publications meant for inmates.

“It’s not the type of publication that is going to cause trouble,” McGiverin said. “Someone (in other suits) would have cited that.”

The Prison Legal News is owned by Vermont-based Human Rights Defense Center. The suit says it has been sending, and receiving back, its materials sent to the Upshur jail since July 2011.

“It’s a really useful resource,” McGiverin said. “By educating people about the fact that they are entitled to get their blood pressure read — things like that.”

In addition to Upshur County, Sheriff Anthony Betterton and jail lieutenant, Jill McCauley, are named as defendants, the latter two as individuals and in their official capacities.

Upshur County responded to the suit on Jan. 10 with a general denial. Attorneys representing the Upshur defendants, Cass Weiland and Patton Boggs did not return phone messages left Monday at their office.

McGiverin did.

“What we’re really after is getting them to change their policy,” he said, adding no monetary damages are sought other than nominal ones to help ensure legal fees are recovered. “There isn’t a detailed policy about what is and is not being rejected (by Upshur jail censors).”

McGiverin, who works through the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin, said there have been similar suits across the country. He did not immediately recall how one aimed at the Galveston County Jail in 2010 concluded, but suspected it settled out of court.

That’s a plausible outcome in this suit, he said.

“In this particular situation, the law is defined well enough,” he said, later adding he expected a scheduling order from the judge within coming weeks will lead to depositions and other discovery activity.

“We’ll probably get a resolution of some sort within a year,” he said.