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California DOC settles First Amendment lawsuit with Prison Legal News

Associated Press, April 13, 2007.
California DOC settles First Amendment lawsuit with Prison Legal News - Associated Press 2007

California settles First Amendment lawsuit with Prison Legal News

The Associated Press

News FuzeArticle Launched: 04/13/2007 12:43:26 PM PDT

SACRAMENTO - California prison officials have agreed to provide a nonprofit legal newsletter to state inmates to settle a First Amendment lawsuit filed this week in federal court.

The lawsuit by Seattle-based Prison Legal News alleges that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation violated inmates' free speech and due process rights by blocking inmates from receiving their paid subscriptions to the monthly publication. The newsletter covers legal news like court decisions and gives legal self-help advice to inmates.

The department agreed in December to pay the publisher $65,100, most of which will go for five-year subscriptions of the newsletter for each of the 157 prison legal libraries at its 33 adult prisons. The department also agreed to update its mail policy to eliminate several restrictions it had placed on publications.

The publication's attorneys filed the suit Thursday in federal court in Oakland to ensure the settlement is legally binding, said Amy Whelan, an attorney for the newsletter.

Prison Legal News has about 5,000 subscribers, 80 percent of whom are in jail or prison. About 1,000 subscribers are in California prisons. The company also publishes more than 40 books, some of which have been blocked from reaching inmates who ordered them, the suit alleges.

"This is an important vindication of significant constitutional rights," Paul Wright, the newsletter's editor and publisher, said in a statement.

Corrections spokesman Seth Unger said the publications were blocked under policies that required publishers to be on an "approved vendors list," that prohibited hardcover books for security reasons, restricted the weight of mail inmates could receive, and limited the amount of written material an inmate could have at one time.

"It was not an attempt at censorship," Unger said.

However, the department is changing all those policies under the settlement.

Prison Legal News has won similar lawsuits or settlements in Alabama, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

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