The folks at Prison Legal News are suing the Galveston County Jail, Sheriff Freddie Poor, and former Sheriff Gean Leonard, claiming the county is violating the monthly newsletter's First Amendment rights by refusing to deliver issues to incarcerated subscribers.
Filed Monday in federal court, the suit claims that the alleged jail practice of not allowing prisoners to receive any publications "deprives Prison Legal news of its Constitutional rights of free speech and expression, and its due process rights." (PLN is part of the nonprofit Human Rights Defense Center, with about 7,000 subscribers, most of whom are incarcerated).
"As publishers, we have a right to communicate with our readers and subscribers, just as much as our subscribers have a right to read our publications," PLN's Alex Friedmann told Hair Balls. He said PLN wasn't aware until notified by prisoners or family members that its newsletter was not reaching the subscribers.
While the jail's handbook states that certain publications are allowed under certain circumstances, Friedmann said, "The practice of the jail differs a little from the policy. The practice was, 'You can't get books or magazines, period.'"
But aren't jail officials just saving prisoners from nasty paper-cuts and the dangerous possibility of book-learnin'? After all, the 56-page newsletter, according to the website, "provides a cutting edge review and analysis of prisoner rights, court rulings and news about prison issues....PLN provides information that enables prisoners and other concerned individuals and organizations to seek the protection and enforcement of prisoners' rights at the grass-roots level."
Sounds to us like that might make them boys all uppity.
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"We have a problem when government officials get to decide what people are able to read and receive," Friedmann said. "....Our government should not be in the business of deciding what citizens read, whether they're incarcerated or not."
He added that, "Most jails recognize prisoners rights' to receive reading materials, unlike Galveston."
We put a call into the Sheriff's office and are waiting on a response.
"There is this mentality that when people are locked up, they lose all their rights, and of course that isn't true," Friedmann said. "There's also a mentality that prisoners need to be treated harshly and punished. The bad part of that is, in county jails or city jails, the vast majority of people there are pre-trial detainees. Those are people who have not yet been convicted of any crime, who are presumably innocent until proven guilty, and yet the philosophy is to treat them as poorly as possible and restrict their rights as much as possible."