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PLN, Virginia county to settle censorship lawsuit, March 6, 2016.

Lawsuit determines inmates' constitutional rights



Published 03/04 2016 05:31PM

A lawsuit centered around the constitutional rights of inmates at a local jail is finally coming to a close.

James Whitley, the superintendent of the Northwest Regional Adult Detention Center in Winchester and officials from the publication Prison Legal News entered into an agreement on Thursday that would prevent a court hearing regarding mail censorship at the jail.

If a judge gives the green light, NRADC will be required to allow inmates to receive magazine subscriptions and books in the mail, and inmates may also keep the materials in their cells.

"We felt that it was the only constitutional answer to the complaint that we filed, and I think they've realized that they do have to allow prisoners to read in their cells, and that it's not really a big deal and it's not a huge threat to security," said the prosecuting attorney, Jeffrey Fogel.

Fogle said it all comes down to the "right to read" clause in the Constitution's First Amendment, which protects inmates who want to receive and keep books and magazines in their cells, unless doing so would harm the jail.  

Before the lawsuit agreement was reached, inmates could not have books or magazines sent to them directly because of issues with smuggling contraband.

"It came down to censoring the mail, and while I thought I had penological interest in doing that, they argued against it," Whitely said.

Now, Whitley said jail employees will devote more time to screening books and magazines that are delivered directly to inmates, while also limiting the amount of books an inmate can keep in a cell to two or three per month.

While the inmates can access reading materials the jail orders for them, Fogle doesn't believe there's any merit to banning inmate subscriptions and books received in the mail.

"I don't see the connection between the two in any serious way," Fogel said," so, yes, that may have happened, but there are a million ways that contraband could get in to a jail or prison."

This debate started in October, when Fogel's client, Prison Legal News, tried to send its magazines directly to inmates at NRADC.

After the magazines were returned without explanation, the publisher filed the lawsuit, which also argues that lack of explanation violated the magazine's right to appeal Whitely's decision under due process.

Now, the jail must tell publishers why their publications are returned.

A hearing for the cash settlement will happen later this year.