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Publisher of Prison Legal News Magazine Sues Idaho Jail for Allegedly Censoring Mail

Newsweek, Dec. 23, 2021.

A publisher that mails out a prison news magazine is suing an Idaho county for allegedly denying the distribution of magazines and other materials at its local jail.

Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the publisher of Prison Legal News magazine, is suing Idaho's Canyon County and Sheriff Kieran Donahue, alleging that its magazine, which can contain information on the legal rights of incarcerated individuals, and other similar types of mail are unable to pass through jail security. The group assists prisoners all over the country that are seeking legal redress for human rights violations they experience while incarcerated.

"Defendants have a custom and practice of rejecting magazines and informational brochures sent by HRDC to prisoners at the jail," the group said in the lawsuit. "Accordingly, Defendants' publications and mail policies and practices violate HRDC's rights under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment."

The barring of HRDC's magazines allegedly began in November 2020, with the group saying it can identify at least 21 items of mail since then that were censored and not distributed to their subscribers. The items were then returned to its Lake Worth, Florida, headquarters with various labels, such as "soliciting not allowed."

The HRDC has filed several censorship lawsuits in recent years for similar issues. Subjects of these lawsuits include the Indiana Department of Corrections, Lincoln County in Wisconsin, Sherburne County in Minnesota and Johnson County in Kansas. The group recently won its appeal to enforce the Vermont Public Records Act against medical contractor Wellpath and its partnership with the Vermont Department of Corrections.

Canyon County Jail officials have not commented on the lawsuit.

Canyon County's website says inmates can receive books and magazines, but there are some restrictions and conditions. Jail officials, for example, don't allow inmates to have more than five publications at a time.

Human Rights Defense Center also publishes books about the criminal justice system, legal reference books and self-help books of interest to prisoners.

The lawsuit states that the group has suffered damages that include the loss of potential subscribers and the inability to recruit new subscribers.

The group is asking the court to prevent jail officials from blocking material it sends to inmates. It is also asking for a jury trial and unspecified damages.