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PLN prevails in Kansas DOC gift subscription suit on remand from 10th Circuit

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2007.
Press Release - PLN prevails in Kansas DOC gift subscription suit on remand from 10th Circuit - 2007

PLN Prevails in Long-Running First Amendment Lawsuit against Kansas DOC

October 2, 2007 - Prison Legal News

P R E S S R E L E A S E

For Immediate Release – October 2, 2007

PLN Prevails in Long-Running First Amendment Lawsuit against Kansas DOC

TOPEKA, KS – On October 1, 2007, U.S. District Court Judge Monti L. Belot found unconstitutional Kansas Dept. of Corrections (KDOC) policies which restricted how prisoners can receive publications and other reading material. Judge Belot further required the DOC to provide immediate, individualized notice to publishers when reading material is rejected or censored by prison officials.

Prison Legal News (PLN), which publishes a monthly newsletter that covers criminal justice and corrections-related issues, filed suit against the KDOC in 2002, challenging several DOC policies that restricted how prisoners could obtain reading materials – including subscriptions to PLN.

KDOC policies prohibited prisoners from receiving gift subscriptions purchased by friends or family members; prisoners were instead required to pay for all publications from their prison trust accounts. Further, the amount that prisoners could spend on publications was capped at $40.00 under a privilege and incentive system, although they could spend up to $180 on snacks, toiletries or other canteen purchases. When publications were censored or rejected at KDOC facilities, notice was provided to the prisoner but not to the publisher that had sent the reading material.

PLN argued that these policies impinged on prisoners' First Amendment rights to receive reading materials as well as PLN's right to distribute its publications. PLN further argued that the lack of notice to publishers when reading material was censored was a violation of its due process rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Monti Belot agreed. The Court rejected the KDOC's argument that restrictions on gift subscriptions were justified due to security concerns, finding "no rational and valid connection between the prohibition of gift subscriptions and security concerns." The Court also found that there was "no rational and valid connection" between limiting funds that prisoners could spend on publications and the KDOC's privilege and incentive system.

The Court required the KDOC to provide publishers with immediate, individualized notice when reading material is rejected or censored, instead of an annual notice sent to publishers as suggested by KDOC officials.

"The First Amendment rights of both prisoners and publishers have been upheld in this important ruling, which will bring the policies of the Kansas Dept. of Corrections into Constitutional compliance," stated PLN Editor Paul Wright. "Prisoners do not lose their First Amendment rights when incarcerated, and prison officials should not unduly restrict those rights or the rights of publishers."

Previously, PLN's lawsuit was dismissed in April 2003 and appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which reversed the dismissal and remanded the case in December 2004. The case went to a bench trial before Judge Belot in February 2007 in Wichita, Kansas.

The case is Prison Legal News, Inc. v. Roger Werholtz, U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, Civil Action No. 02-4054-MLB.


A copy of the ruling can be viewed at:

https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/includes/_public/_briefbanks/court%20orders/pln_v_werholtz_ks_first_amendment_publications_ruling_2007.pdf

With this ruling, the Kansas Department of Corrections joins the prison systems of California, Washington state, Oregon and Nevada which operate their mail systems under PLN court orders, consent decrees or both.

Prison Legal News, founded in 1990, is a Seattle, WA-based non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. prisons. PLN publishes a monthly newsletter that includes articles, reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners' rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has over 6,000 subscribers in all 50 states and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that contains a comprehensive national database of prison-related court rulings, verdicts and settlements.


For further information, contact:

Paul Wright, Editor
Prison Legal News
2400 NW 80th St., Box 148
Seattle, WA 98117
(802) 275-8594
pwright@prisonlegalnews.org


Attorneys Bruce Plenk and Maxwell Kautsch represented PLN in this lengthy case, and did an excellent job in seeing it through the various stages of litigation to a successful conclusion. They are in the process of submitting a motion for attorney fees and can be reached for comment at:

Bruce Plenk, Esq.
Maxwell Kautsch, Esq.
16 E. 13th St.
Lawrence, KS 66044-1372
(785) 749-3579
(785) 840-0077
bplenk@igc.org
kautschlaw@yahoo.com