PLN sues Ventura County, CA over jail's postcard-only policy
Human Rights Defense Center
For Immediate Release
February 5, 2014
Publisher Files First Amendment Censorship Suit Against Ventura County Sheriff Challenging Postcard-Only Policy
VENTURA, CA – Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly publication that reports on criminal justice-related issues, filed a lawsuit on January 31, 2014 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles against Ventura County and Sheriff Geoff Dean, alleging unconstitutional censorship at the county jail in violation of the First Amendment. The Jail policy provides that aside from legal mail sent to or from lawyers and the courts, all correspondence sent to prisoners must be in the form of a postcard. All other letter mail is censored and rejected.
In the lawsuit, PLN, a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, asks the court to enjoin Ventura County from censoring its monthly publication and letter correspondence mailed to prisoners at the jail. PLN publishes and distributes Prison Legal News, a monthly journal of corrections news and analysis regarding prisoners' rights, court rulings, management of prison and jail facilities, and conditions of confinement.
PLN has approximately 9,000 subscribers nationwide, including prisoners, attorneys, journalists, public libraries, judges, corrections professionals and other members of the public. PLN distributes its publication to prisoners and law librarians in approximately 2,200 correctional facilities across the United States, including institutions within the Federal Bureau of Prisons and all thirty-three adult prisons of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
According to PLN's complaint, "Defendants have censored PLN's monthly journal, informational brochure packets, subscription renewal letters, and Internet-based printouts mailed to inmates held in custody at Ventura County jails, by refusing to deliver said items to the prisoners and, in some instances, by returning items to PLN's offices via the Return To Sender service of the United States Postal Service. Defendants continue to censor many of the items listed above."
"Prisoners in jail, many of whom are awaiting trial, have not been convicted and are presumed innocent until proven guilty, have a right under the First Amendment to receive reading material, and publishers such as PLN also have a First Amendment right to send our publications and letter mail to prisoners," said Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News and executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center.
"County officials should not be in the business of unconstitutional censorship or deciding what people can and cannot read," said Ernest Galvan, an attorney with Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld in San Francisco, which represents PLN in the lawsuit. "Just because someone is in jail doesn’t mean they can be denied access to the free flow of information."
Prison Legal News, which is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as nominal and compensatory damages plus costs and attorneys' fees, has successfully challenged postcard-only policies and other forms of censorship at jails in other jurisdictions, including in Berkeley County, South Carolina; Fulton County, Georgia and Shawnee County, Kansas. As recently as September 30, 2013, a federal court entered a preliminary injunction in a similar censorship lawsuit filed by PLN against the Upshur County Jail in Texas, and on April 24, 2013 a federal court in Oregon entered judgment in favor of PLN in a suit challenging a postcard-only policy at the Columbia County Jail.
The case is Prison Legal News v. County of Ventura, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, Case No. 2:14-cv-00773-GHK-E, January 31, 2014. PLN has filed a motion seeking a preliminary injunction, which is currently scheduled to be heard on March 17, 2014 before the Hon. George H. King.
PLN is represented by HRDC General Counsel Lance Weber, Ernest Galvan and Blake Thompson of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld in San Francisco, and Brian Vogel of the Law Offices of Brian Vogel in Ventura.
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 a monthly average of 9,000 subscribers nationwide 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.
Director, Human Rights Defense Center
Editor, Prison Legal News
Lance Weber, General Counsel
Human Rights Defense Center
(561) 360-2523 office
Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld