ACLU suing South Carolina prison over banned books

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release] Wednesday challenging a South Carolina detention center rule that bans all books, including magazines and newspapers, from being sent to prisoners. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Prison Legal News [advocacy website] against the Berkeley County Detention Center [official website] in Moncks Corner for First and Fourteenth Amendment [texts] violations. The publication provides information about legal issues such as court access, disciplinary hearings, prison conditions, excessive force, mail censorship, prison and jail litigation, visitation, telephones, religious freedom, prison rape and the death penalty. It also distributes various books aimed at fostering a better understanding of criminal justice policies and allowing prisoners to educate themselves in areas such as legal research, how to write a business letter and health care in prison. In addition to seeking injunctive and declaratory relief, the ACLU is seeking punitive damages:

Punitive damages are warranted as to this claim because each Defendant's conduct was motivated by evil motive or intent, involved reckless or callous indifference to the federally protected rights of Plaintiffs, intentionally violated federal law, or involved ill will, a desire to injure, and malice. Defendants' conduct is of the sort that calls for deterrence and punishment over and above that provided by compensatory awards.
The Prison Legal News has attempted to mail its publication to inmates at least nine times since 2008, but none was delivered. The correction center's policy provides an exception for soft-cover copies of the Bible.

The constitutional rights of prisoners are somewhat limited. Last year, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled [opinion text] that a Massachusetts regulation prohibiting prisoners from receiving sexually explicit mail is constitutional [JURIST report]. The petitioners challenged the portions a statute that regulates the receipt of sexually explicit pictures in the mail and the display of sexually explicit or suggestive images, as violating the First Amendment freedom of speech provision. In 2007, the US federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) said that it will reshelve all religious material taken from prison chapel libraries originally determined to fall outside the approved list of material [JURIST report]. The BOP made the decision to temporarily end the Standardized Chapel Library Project in light of growing criticism from a wide spectrum of religious and secular leaders. The BOP says it produced the list of limited material based on a 2004 report by the US Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, which provided recommendations for curbing violence and derogation related to Muslim extremism in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

 

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