New York State Department of Correctional and Community Service (DOCCS) enacted Directive 4911A in December as a pilot project in three New York prisons. Under this Directive, prisoners may only receive packages from six approved vendors (a couple more vendors may be later added), and packages from family members are restricted to non-electrical musical instruments,…

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  By Kamea Zelisko How about these for credentials for an authority on prison issues: authoring a handbook on prison life, three books on subjects examining ways education can benefit inmates, plus a steady stream of articles in national magazines, newspapers and blogs on a wide range of legal and other incarceration-related topics. No less…

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Counter-Terrorism Unit Tasked with Prison Censorship The life of an incarcerated writer is anything but ordinary. While my fellow prisoners are working out on the yard, playing cards, or watching television, I am often at the desk in my cell or in the law library working on my next project. It’s long and hard work,…

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By Christopher Zoukis Prison Legal News has launched an important lawsuit against Arizona’s Department of Corrections over the withholding of their publication from prisoners. The editions in question discuss documented cases of rape and sexual violence perpetrated by prison staff against inmates—one of which took place in an Arizona prison and was heard in federal…

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By Prison Legal News Prison Legal News continues its efforts to defend its First Amendment right to communicate with prisoners in the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC). In 1999 the NDOC banned all copies of PLN, claiming the publication constituted “inmate correspondence.” PLN filed suit and was granted a preliminary injunction requiring delivery of PLN…

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By Prison Legal News

In December 2013, Prison Legal News settled a federal lawsuit against Upshur County, Texas that alleged unconstitutional censorship when PLN’s publications were rejected by jail officials. The suit, filed in October 2012, named the county, Sheriff Anthony Betterton and Sheriff’s Lt. Jill McCauley as defendants.

According to the complaint, the Upshur County jail’s inmate handbook contained “no written criteria explaining when a publication will be rejected,” and the jail’s mail policy did “not provide a sender any notice or explanation when a book is censored.”

PLN mailed copies of its monthly publication to prisoners at the jail, as well as letters, renewal notices, brochures and copies of a book titled Protecting Your Health and Safety. The jail rejected approximately 90 of PLN’s publications over a one-year period, stamping them “No Newspaper,” “Unauthorized Mail,” “Not Approved” or “Refused.” The jail also rejected legal mail sent to prisoners by PLN’s attorneys. No notice was provided regarding this censorship, and PLN was not afforded an opportunity to appeal the rejection of its publications.

“The purpose of jail is to hold the criminally accused for trial, not to punish them,” said Lance Weber, general counsel for the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), PLN’s non-profit parent organization. “Depriving pretrial detainees too poor to afford bail – who are presumed innocent – of access to information that could assist them in enforcing their rights is inexcusable.”

On September 30, 2013, the district court granted PLN’s motion for a preliminary injunction, finding “The evidence suggests that at least some of PLN’s correspondence with prisoners has been withheld from its intended recipients, depriving Plaintiff of its First Amendment rights without due process of law.”

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