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Verdicts & Settlements

Prison Legal News Loses Censorship Suit Against Prisons Bureau

— December 15, 2019

Prison Legal News’ executive director expressed disappointment with the verdict.

A federal appeals court ruled in favor of a maximum-security prison in Colorado on Friday, saying the facility had effected sufficient policy review to negate claims of censorship.

The Star Tribune reports that the judgment, made by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, rejected an argument offered by Prison Legal News. In their lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Prison’s Florence facility, Prison Legal News claimed only a court order could counter future attempts at censoring inmate mail and literature.

“The Warden has declared that PLN’s future publications substantially similar to the previously rejected publications will not be rejected,” Judge Scott Matheson, Jr., wrote for the court’s majority.

According to the Star Tribune, the dispute centers on Florence Supermax’s decision to not distribute Prison Legal News issues published between 2010 and 2014. The reason given by Department of Prison officials was that the magazine specifically named individual inmates and employees at Florence.

Florence Supermax is well-known for housing some of the nation’s most notorious criminals, including “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and convicted 9-11 conspirators. The former kingpin of the Sinaloa drug cartel—Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman—was recently moved to Florence to serve a life sentence.

Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, now incarcerated at the Florence supermax, looks out the window of an airplane. Drug Enforcement Agency photo. Public domain.

Despite the prison’s promises to change, Prison Legal News’s editor, Paul Wright, expressed discontent with the ruling. As the Star Tribune reports, Wright said this was the second time the Bureau of Prisons had censored their periodical and the “second time they claimed the suit was moot by capitulating at the last minute and delivering the censored publications years after they were published.”

Prison Legal News has been involved in numerous lawsuits both against the federal government and individual state corrections departments. The magazine’s suit against Florida was covered last September by LegalReader.

In that lawsuit, Prison Legal News offered a similar argument.

“Publishers, reports, and advertisers have a constitutionally protected interest in communicating with prisoners, and prisoners have a right to receive those communications,” the Florida filing said. “These protections are all the more important when the publication at issue is uniquely designed to inform prisoners of their legal rights, and a prison’s decision to silence that speech is all the more suspect when it is applied in a blanket manner to the entire incarcerated population based on bare assertions of security concerns without supporting evidence.”

But on Friday, the 10th Circuit Court nevertheless sided with Florence, deciding that whatever changes the Prisons Bureau had made were sufficient to render the lawsuit moot. The ruling upholds a similar judgment made by a lower court. Both decisions were effected after Florence revised its materials policy prohibiting the censorship of literature based solely on the naming of inmates or facility employees.


Court sides with Colorado supermax prison in censorship case

Prison Legal News Takes Magazine Lawsuit to Supreme Court

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