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PLN settles censorship suit against Virginia Beach jail

Hampton Roads, May 21, 2015.

Magazine returns to jail after settlement ends suit


A magazine for prisoner rights will be allowed to circulate in the city's jail after reaching a settlement in a federal lawsuit filed against the sheriff.

Prison Legal News sued Sheriff Ken Stolle and 10 of his staff members in 2013, claiming the Virginia Beach Correctional Center censored more than 60 magazines and brochures because it said some advertisements contained "sexually explicit material," according to the complaint.

The publication said its ads did not feature nudity or depictions of sexual acts, according to court documents.

The magazine will now be permitted in the jail based on its format in March, and Stolle will be able to evaluate the editions if the formatting changes, according to the agreement filed in April in U.S. District Court in Norfolk. Information packs that include subscription forms and renewal packets also will be allowed, according to the court document.

Prison Legal News Editor Paul Wright said the monthly magazine's content in March was not "materially different" from the way it was two years ago when the publication filed its lawsuit. He said his publication is a black-and-white print magazine on legal issues and criminal justice news: "That's about as racy as it gets."

The magazine is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, a prisoner advocacy nonprofit.

Stolle, who said he wanted "pornographic" images removed from the advertisements, said the ads in recent issues appeared to be different from the old ones.

"They pulled all the pornography out of the magazine," he said. "They made a huge change to that."

As part of the settlement, the publication agreed to withdraw its request for monetary or punitive damages, according to court documents.

While the case was ongoing, the Sheriff's Office made changes to its policies on publication review and what materials it considers sexually explicit, according to court documents. U.S. District Judge Mark Davis ruled in March that the old policy on sexually explicit material was unconstitutional and "overbroad," and that the publications review policy didn't give rejected publications adequate notice or a chance to respond, according to court documents.

Stolle said the Sheriff's Office tightened up its definition of sexually explicit materials.

This is not the first time Prison Legal News has sued in Virginia. In 2010, the state Department of Corrections agreed to pay $40,000 in damages, plus litigation costs and attorneys fees, to settle a censorship lawsuit filed by the publication.