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Settlement in postcard suit against Sullivan County, TN jail quotes PLN

Times News, Aug. 17, 2016.

Sullivan County settles federal lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News



GREENEVILLE — Sullivan County has agreed to pay Prison Legal News $50,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that claimed the Sullivan County Sheriff's Department was censoring and refusing to deliver publications and newsletters to inmates.

Prison Legal News is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, a Florida-based nonprofit organization whose mission is public education, prisoner education, advocacy and outreach in support of prisoners’ rights.

PLN filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in October 2013 naming the county, the sheriff’s department and Sheriff Wayne Anderson as the defendants.

PLN claims the department has been censoring and refusing to deliver its material to inmates held at the jail, including hundreds of copies of its monthly journal and dozens of copies of informational brochure packs.

The Sullivan County Jail used to have a postcards-only mail policy with all other mail, except legal mail, to be returned to sender. No packages were allowed unless approved by the jail’s facility administrator.

The policy was enacted to help stem the flow of contraband, particularly drugs, from entering the jail and to cut down on the amount of time spent inspecting letters and packages.

However, the postcards-only mail policy was abandoned in November 2013 — one month after the lawsuit was filed — following a recommendation from the Tennessee Corrections Institute.

Sullivan County denied the allegations, pointing out that several of the inmates were released before the PLN material arrived in the mail for them. One inmate had several aliases, which may have contributed to the problem.

In addition, no inmates ever filed a grievance with the jail regarding PLN mail, Sullivan County claimed.

Sullivan County Attorney Dan Street said the matter did not go to mediation. Since the mail policy had been changed and to keep from pulling the sheriff's department into a trial, Street said the $50,000 settlement was a good way to put the matter to rest.

“We're pleased that this case has resolved, and that prisoners at the Sullivan County jail can receive letters from their children and other family members instead of having their correspondence restricted to postcards,” said Alex Friedmann, managing editor of PLN. “Many people in jail are awaiting trial, have not been convicted and are presumed innocent, and retain most of their rights -- including their rights under the First Amendment.”

Founded in 1990, PLN publishes and distributes a monthly journal of news and analysis and certain books about the criminal justice system and legal issues affecting prisoners. PLN has approximately 7,000 subscribers in the U.S. and overseas and distributes its publications to prisoners and law libraries in 2,200 correctional facilities across the country.