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PLN files suit against censorship at Fulton County, GA jail

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Oct. 22, 2007.
PLN files suit against censorship at Fulton County, GA jail - Atlanta Journal-Constitution 2007

Editor challenges jail's ban on publications

Fulton County prisoners can't get Prison Legal News under current policy

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 10/22/07

A magazine editor is suing Fulton County Sheriff Myron Freeman because he has banned county prisoners from getting nonreligious publications.

Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, noted in the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta that such bans at the Fulton jail already were declared unconstitutional in a 2002 lawsuit against former Sheriff Jackie Barrett. But, he said, it was common for jailers to be repeat offenders.

"We've had some recidivist censors," he said dryly in a telephone interview from his office in Vermont on Monday night. "The jails seem to make up policies as they go along. I guess they figured the federal judge was just kidding."

Freeman didn't immediately return a message left on his home telephone voice mail, and attempts to reach his spokeswomen were unsuccessful.

Wright started the Prison Legal News in 1990; it has grown to six full-time employees and about 7,000 subscribers. It publishes monthly stories about prisoners' legal rights and the conditions — often brutal — within jails and prisons.

Wright didn't think Freeman was picking on him. He said the Fulton ban was for all nonreligious publications.

He said he has fought legal battles, almost always successfully, nationwide to ensure his publications could circulate freely in prisons and jails. For instance, he said, Dallas officials are to scheduled to approve a settlement with his magazine Tuesday regarding a ban on publications in that Texas city's jail.

And how did Wright get into the prison publications business? He was convicted of killing a drug dealer during a robbery in Washington state, which he said gave him plenty of time in the pokey — 17 years — to develop, perfect and implement his business plan for his publication.

He noted in his case, at least, rehabilitation worked. Now he just annoys the authorities — like any good journalist.

"I learned my lesson," he said. "I leave the drug dealers alone now."

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