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Lawsuits & Litigation

Iowa Inmates’ Suit to Keep Pornography in Prisons Struggles to Stay Afloat

— December 6, 2018

A group of Iowa inmates intent on overturning the state’s decision to keep pornography out of prisons is beginning to buckle under legal pressure.

The Des Moines Register reports that fifty-eight inmates from the Fort Dodge Correctional Center launched the suit in October. Filed in U.S. District Curt, the convicts claimed the pornography ban was unconstitutional.

Each of the inmates asked state officials to pay upwards of $25,000 in damages.

But the short-lived movement has all but disintegrated—if not lack for a lack of motivation, then finances. According to the Register, only one inmate has signed a motion to keep the litigation alive.

According to the Register, Des Moines-based Judge Robert Pratt ordered each of the plaintiffs to pay a $350 filing fee or declare they were unable to pay. Pratt also gave the prisoners a November 30th deadline to file new complaints if they wished the case to proceed.

Attorney Nick Sarcone, interviewed by NBC-2, said the initial complaint didn’t make very much sense.

“The complaint itself doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at all,” he said. “It’s full of sort of half sentences, half paragraphs, definitions that don’t make any sense.”

Brown wooden gavel; image by Rawpixel, via
The inmates claim that being denied pornography is a violation of their First Amendment rights. Brown wooden gavel; image by Rawpixel, via

All of the inmates, says the Register, were acting without the assistance of a lawyer; self-representation is a common feature of prison litigation.

Sarcone said that convicts won’t be taken seriously until and unless they find a way to credibly allege that the new policy has caused harm and violates the law.

“I think it’ll get tossed if they don’t figure out a way to reformulate the complaint,” he said.

Nevertheless, Sarcone seemed to suggest that petitioning for porn in prisons isn’t may not be as ridiculous as it comes across.

“There have been cases in the past where prison inmates have filed suit claiming a violation of their First Amendment rights to access items like pornography,” Sarcone said. “A lot of people believe that if you commit a crime you lose all of your rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution.

“That’s just not correct,” he said.

As of Tuesday, the paper says the only Fort Dodge inmate still sticking up for his right to peruse pornography is Michael Wayne Lindgren. The 44-year criminal is serving a lengthy sentence for third-degree burglary and is expected to be released in January of 2034.

Lindgren, says the Register, ‘filed a motion postmarked Nov. 30 that asks for a continuance for 30 days to allow him time to file an amended lawsuit.’ Pratt has yet to rule on Lindgren’s requests and hasn’t yet dismissed the other 57 inmates.

The convicts’ suit comes in response to a new state law, enacted during the Iowa Legislature’s most recent session.

The law shuttered “pornography reading rooms” in Iowa prisons and prohibits inmates from keeping nude photographs in their cells.

Iowa’s ‘moral’ provision overturns a long-standing policy permitting porn in prisons. That policy, notes the Register, was put in place after another judge ruled in 1988 that Iowa’s porn rules for the incarcerated were unconstitutionally vague.

The state’s Department of Corrections says it believes the latest legislation is line with Federal Bureau of Prisons guidelines and can withstand whatever legal challenge inmates might muster.


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Only one Iowa inmate seeks to keep lawsuit alive overturning prison pornography ban

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