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PLN censorship suit against GEO Group in IN settles for $50,000

Courier Times (IN), Sept. 13, 2015. http://www.thecouriertimes.com/news/article_06b...

GEO settles lawsuit involving prisoner rights magazine

Posted: Sunday, September 13, 2015 12:00 am

By KATIE CLONTZ kclontz@thecouriertimes.com

A magazine that reports about the rights of prisoners and criminal justice issues recently settled a lawsuit involving GEO, the company operating the New Castle Correctional Facility (NCCF).

The GEO Group settled the case involving Prison Legal News (PLN) last month, agreeing to pay them $50,000 in damages, attorney fees and costs, according to a PLN press release issued Thursday.

A spokesperson at the NCCF declined comment to The Courier-Times, and phone calls to Douglas Garrison, communications chief for the Indiana Department of Correction, were not immediately returned. Pablo E. Paez, vice president of GEO Corporate relations in Boca Raton, Florida, also declined to comment on the case.

Prison Legal News is a publication distributed across the country. Court documents indicate the publication is dispersed to about 2,400 correctional facilities throughout the United States.

The case was filed Nov. 26, 2014 in United States District Court Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, along with attorneys representing PLN. The lawsuit was filed against the GEO Group, the Florida-based company that operates NCCF. Also listed in the suit is NCCF's superintendent, Keith Butts.

"GEO had censored at least 90 issues of PLN's monthly publication mailed to prisoners at the facility, allegedly because Prison Legal News contains advertisements from companies that provide pen-pal services to prisoners and The Indiana Department of Correction has a policy, applicable to New Castle, prohibiting prisoners from participating in pen-pal services," a PLN press release said.

The suit contended that the prison violated First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by preventing distribution of the magazine without showing a valid reason to withhold it from prisoners and by failing to afford the project notice and an opportunity to be heard when the publication is denied.

PLN argued that GEO's policy "has no rational basis as many publications that prisoners are allowed to receive contain advertisements promoting the sale of items and/or services that the prisoners cannot access," a press release said.

PLN sought monetary damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief, plus attorney fees and costs. On Jan. 22, the U.S. District Court entered a consent injunction after GEO agreed not to enforce the policy related to pen-pal ads while the case remained pending, the release said.

In its order of dismissal, the district court said that pursuant to the settlement agreement, it would continue to retain jurisdiction over the consent injunction entered in January.

The consent injunction states that, "Defendants are enjoined from rejecting Prison Legal News at the New Castle Correctional Facility and from preventing prisoners at the facility from receiving the publication on the basis that it contains advertisements for goods or services, otherwise lawful, which are prohibited by DOC rules," a press release said. "The consent injunction also required GEO Group to provide notice when publications sent to prisoners are rejected, to notify prisoners of the injunction and to train mailroom staff as to the terms of the injunction."

PLN Editor Paul Wright said the publication has been censored in the past for a variety of reasons.

"Prison officials do not like our content, which informs prisoners about their legal rights," Wright said. "But the government — including private government contractors such as GEO Group — cannot censor publications just because they don't like what they say."