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11th Circuit rules in PLN censorship case against Florida DOC

Orlando Sentinel, May 21, 2018.

Ed. Note: PLN intends to appeal this bad ruling.


Appeal court sides with Florida ban of inmate magazine

By Dara KamNews Service of Florida

May 21, 2018
Tallahassee -- Invoking Oscar Wilde, an appellate court brushed aside First Amendment concerns and sided with the Florida Department of Corrections in a long-running dispute about a monthly magazine targeted at inmates.

The ruling last week by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a previous federal court decision in the case, which has dragged on for more than a decade. It was filed by Prison Legal News over a publication allowed in institutions in every other state but banned by Florida corrections officials.

The publisher of the magazine maintains that prison officials’ censorship is a violation of the First Amendment. But, agreeing with a 2015 decision by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, the appeals court found the publication poses a security threat.

“From time to time we have all followed the advice of Oscar Wilde and gotten rid of temptation by yielding to it. Yielding to the temptation to commit an act that the law forbids can lead to bad consequences, including imprisonment. Prison officials have the duty to reduce the temptation for prisoners to commit more crimes and to curtail their access to the means of committing them,” Ed Carnes, chief judge of the Atlanta-based appeals court, wrote in a decision joined by judges Joel F. Dubina and Anne C. Conway.

The Florida corrections agency’s rules are “aimed at preventing fraud schemes” and other criminal activity, “but inmates continually attempt to circumvent” the measures, Carnes wrote in Thursday’s 48-page opinion.

Paul Wright, the publisher of the magazine, said he intends to continue his legal odyssey by appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This is a prison system that routinely murders people, rapes them and brutalizes them and they do so with impunity. They have a total disregard for the Constitution as a whole, so it should be no surprise that they have disregard for the First Amendment,” Wright said. “A huge part of their success in maintaining these dreadful conditions is basically keeping the media and the public unaware of what’s going on in their facilities and keeping prisoners ignorant of the rights and remedies under our legal system.”

The department changed its rules about censorship at least five times since the onset of the battle with Prison Legal News, which filed a lawsuit against the agency in 2004. The case was dismissed the following year after a judge ruled it moot because the department had promised to deliver the publication to inmates.

But after adopting a rule concerning "Admissible Reading Material" in 2009, the agency again began impounding the newsprint publication.

The rule banned publications that contain certain advertisements — for three-way telephone calls, the purchase of products or services in exchange for postage stamps, pen-pal services and conducting businesses while incarcerated — if the ads are "the focus of, rather than being incidental to" the publication.

Wright accused prison officials of targeting the 28-year-old publication because it includes articles critical of the corrections department.

“The whole advertising thing is a red herring. They’re really objecting to our editorial content and using that as a pretext to censor us,” he said.

Various media organizations, including the Florida Press Association, and 16 law professors filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting Prison Legal News' lawsuit, arguing in part that the corrections department’s position could threaten the distribution of newspapers inside prison walls.

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