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PLN censorship suit filed against Arizona DOC

Capitol Times, Nov. 10, 2015.

Prisoner rights magazine files suit over alleged censorship

By: Gary Grado November 10, 2015 , 3:51 pm

A monthly magazine dedicated to prisoner rights is suing the Arizona Department of Corrections, claiming it has an overly broad censorship policy and illegally censored four editions of the publication in 2014.

Prison Legal News, a publication of the Washington D.C.-based Human Rights Defense Center, wants a federal court to declare DOC’s mail policies and practices violate the First Amendment and order the agency to stop violating the publication’s rights.

The DOC staff opens all incoming mail to inspect it for criminal activity and intercept contraband that exposes the institution to danger and disorder, according to DOC written policy.

Roughly 100 DOC prisoners have subscriptions of Prison Legal News. The publication alleges that four issues over seven months were censored in 2014.

The publication contends in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix that DOC prisoners generally got their issues without incident until March 2014. That month’s issue, as well as issues for April 2014, July 2014 and October 2014, were withheld on the basis of having information pertaining to “riots/work stoppages/resistance,” “unacceptable sexual or hostile behaviors,” and “sexually explicit material.”

The lawsuit contends DOC did not provide specific examples to support its basis.

Prison Legal News surmised the alleged offending articles were about court cases involving prison rapes, specifically ones involving prison employees as the perpetrators.

“Defendants’ policies do not contain an exception permitting delivery of publications that describe sexual acts in a non-salacious way as part of an article reporting on the facts of a court case or published legal decision, such as the articles in the issues of Prison Legal Newsthat Defendants censored,” the plaintiffs’ attorney, David Bodney, wrote in the complaint.

DOC eventually allowed the delivery of the issues in question, but not until after Prison Legal News pressed the agency for more than a year, according to the lawsuit.

Bodney said Prison Legal News believes DOC is retaliating against the publication because it focuses on prisoner rights, although the news outlet has information to believe editions ofBloomberg Business, The Economist, National Geographic and Newsweek have also been withheld from prisoner subscribers.

Bodney said people who send mail to prisoners have due process rights, but DOC never informed Prison Legal News it was withholding the four issues.

“Defendants’ policies, practices and customs censor PLN’s expressive activities and have a chilling effect on PLN’s future speech and expression directed toward inmates confined there,” Bodney wrote.

A spokesman for DOC was not immediately available for comment.