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PLN files censorship suit against Nevada DOC

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2013.
Press release - PLN files censorship suit against Nevada DOC 2013

PRESS RELEASE

Human Rights Defense Center
For Immediate Release

June 27, 2013


Publisher Files Censorship Suit Against Nevada Department of Corrections

Carson City, NV – Today, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of people held in U.S. detention facilities, filed suit in U.S. District Court against Nevada Department of Corrections (DOC) Director James G. Cox and other DOC officials, seeking to enjoin the unconstitutional censorship of books and magazines sent by HRDC’s publishing project, Prison Legal News (PLN).

“The First Amendment does not end at the prison door,” American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada Legal Director Staci Pratt observed. “Censorship of legal materials through the establishment of arbitrary procedural roadblocks does not comport with the Nevada DOC’s constitutional obligations.”

The lawsuit contends that the Nevada DOC has engaged in the “unlawful censorship of books, magazines and other correspondence” from PLN through the enforcement of DOC policies that prohibit the use of address labels on magazines sent to prisoners; a ban on publications not sent from “approved vendors or publishers”; and a ban on books not sent via First Class Mail.

“These policy restrictions are simply proxies used to justify illegal censorship by prison officials and have no connection with legitimate security-related interests,” said PLN editor Paul Wright. “Even in federal maximum-security prisons there is no policy against the use of address labels or restrictions on what class of mail must be used to send books to prisoners. Surely Nevada prison officials have more important things to do than implement such policies.”

According to the complaint, the Nevada DOC has designated only one vendor, Amazon, as an “approved vendor” to send reading materials to prisoners. PLN’s lawsuit argues that “A single source designated as the ‘approved vendor’ is unconstitutional, since there exist no alternative means of obtaining reading material from publishers such as PLN.”

PLN had previously sued the Nevada DOC over censorship issues, resulting in a September 2000 judgment and settlement in which the state agreed that prisoners “shall be permitted to subscribe to the publications of their choice,” subject to specified security interests.

In conjunction with the lawsuit filed today, PLN also filed a Motion for Order to Show Cause in the prior suit, seeking to hold Nevada DOC officials in contempt for violating provisions of the state’s 2000 settlement with PLN by enacting and enforcing policies that result in renewed censorship of PLN’s monthly publication and book orders sent to Nevada prisoners.

“The Nevada DOC has been down this same unconstitutional censorship road before,” noted Wright. “And this time that road will lead to the same place.”

PLN’s lawsuit against the Nevada DOC seeks declaratory and permanent injunctive relief, as well as damages and payment of attorney’s fees and costs. PLN is represented by Staci Pratt and Allen Lichtenstein, cooperating attorneys with the Nevada ACLU; Ernest Galvan with the San Francisco law firm of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld; and HRDC general counsel Lance Weber. The case is Prison Legal News v. Cox, U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, Case No. 3:13-cv-00346.

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The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990 and based in Lake Worth, Florida, is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of people held in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has around 7,000 subscribers and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.


For further information, please contact:

Paul Wright, Editor
Prison Legal News
(561) 360-2523 (office)
(802) 275-8594 (cell)
pwright@prisonlegalnews.org

Staci Pratt, Attorney
American Civil Liberties Union
601 S. Rancho Dr., Suite B-11
Las Vegas, NV 89106
(702) 366-1536 (office)
pratt@aclunv.org