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PLN sues SC jail due to publications ban; county denies claim

USA Today, Jan. 1, 2010.
PLN sues SC jail due to publications ban; county denies claim - USA Today 2010

S.C. county jail bans stapled publications

Oct. 24, 2010

By Ron Barnett, USA TODAY

MONCKS CORNER, S.C. — The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a Berkeley County, S.C., jail it says prevents inmates from receiving reading material other than Bibles through the mail.

Sandy Senn, the attorney representing Sheriff H. Wayne DeWitt, who runs the Berkeley County Detention Center, denies the allegation made in a lawsuit filed in federal court Oct. 6.

The action was filed on behalf of Prison Legal News and the Human Rights Defense Center, which publishes the legal information journal dealing with the rights of prisoners. It alleges that none of the Prison Legal News copies mailed to at least nine prisoners or the books distributed by the company sent to at least three prisoners made it to the intended recipients.

The suit claims the jail's policy violates the prisoners' free speech rights under the First Amendment and right to due process under the 14th Amendment.

A key piece of evidence attached to the filing is an e-mail alleged to have been sent by 1st Sgt. Kendra Habersham in the detention center to Prison Legal News.

"Our inmates are only allowed to receive soft back bibles in the mail directly from the publisher," it says. "They are not allowed to have magazines, newspapers, or any other type of books."

Habersham declined comment, citing ongoing litigation.

Senn says Habersham's e-mail "was simply mistaken." The problem, she said, is staples.

"Our policy does not prohibit items coming directly from the publisher so long as the items are glued, not stapled," she said in an e-mail. "Staples have presented security and housing concerns as prisoners gather up the staples then place them in locks or flush a bunch of them down toilets causing plumbing issues."

County jails are not under the jurisdiction of the state prison system, but Josh Gelinas, a spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Corrections, said staples, paper clips and other metal fasteners are removed from incoming mail addressed to inmates on death row or who have been convicted of disciplinary infractions.

"Otherwise, magazines are allowed in with staples," he said.

David Shapiro, the ACLU attorney who filed the lawsuit, said items returned to Prison Legal News were never marked as being returned because of staples. They were marked with notations such as "no magazines allowed" and "Book not allowed," he said.

David Fathi, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, said policies banning books and magazines in other jails around the U.S. were overturned 20 to 40 years ago.

The most recent such case was in 1993 in Texas, where a jail policy Fathi described as "identical" to Berkeley County's was ruled unconstitutional.

Senn says no prisoners have complained about not receiving Prison Legal News.

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