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PLN files federal censorship suit against Virginia Beach, VA

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2013.
Press release - PLN files federal censorship suit against Virginia Beach, VA 2013


Human Rights Defense Center
For Immediate Release

July 30, 2013

Publisher Files Federal Censorship Suit Against Virginia Beach Sheriff

Virginia Beach, VA – On Tuesday, 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 a lawsuit in federal court against Virginia Beach Sheriff Kenneth Stolle and other sheriff’s office officials, due to the censorship of books, magazines and correspondence sent to prisoners at the Virginia Beach Correctional Center (VBCC).

The lawsuit contends that Sheriff Stolle and employees at VBCC, which is the largest jail in the Commonwealth of Virginia, “have disapproved or refused to deliver publications that contain constitutionally protected speech.”

According to the complaint, HRDC has mailed numerous publications to VBCC prisoners – including sample copies of HRDC’s monthly publication, Prison Legal News (PLN); book and subscription brochures; a self-help book entitled “Protecting Your Health and Safety”; and copies of court rulings.

Beginning in April 2012, VBCC officials began rejecting and returning dozens of publications mailed to prisoners by HRDC and PLN. Some of the returned publications were stamped “Not Here,” even though “a check of the prisoner subscriber’s custody status revealed them to be in custody at VBCC at the time....” Issues of PLN were rejected because they allegedly included ads with “sexually explicit material,” although the ads did not contain nudity or depictions of sex acts. Staff at VBCC also stated that “ordering forms with prices, catalogs [and] brochures” were not allowed at the jail. PLN received only one mail rejection form from VBCC, while at least 67 pieces of correspondence were censored and returned by jail employees.

“Government officials, including those in the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office, should not be in the business of unconstitutionally censoring the publications citizens can read, even if those citizens are incarcerated – including those who have not been convicted and are ‘presumed innocent,’” said HRDC executive director Paul Wright. “This violates both prisoners’ rights and our rights as a publisher to communicate with people held in confinement.”

PLN’s lawsuit against Sheriff Stolle seeks declaratory and injunctive relief as well as damages, attorney’s fees and costs. PLN is represented by Charlottesville attorneys Jeffrey E. Fogel and Steven D. Rosenfield, and HRDC general counsel Lance Weber. The case is Prison Legal News v. Stolle, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.


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 ( 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, Executive Director
Human Rights Defense Center
(561) 360-2523 (office)
(802) 275-8594 (cell)

Jeffrey E. Fogel, Attorney
(434) 984-0300 (phone)
(434) 220-4852 (fax)

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