By Alex Friedmann
The New York state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NYDOCCS) has settled a federal lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News that challenged the censorship of PLN’s monthly publication, books and correspondence at New York prisons statewide.
PLN claimed in its complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on October 11, 2011, that the NYDOCCS had an “unconstitutional policy of prohibiting inmates from receiving any and all books, magazines, letters and postcards distributed by Plaintiff, including letters from Plaintiff’s attorney…,” which “deprives Plaintiff, as well as its subscribers, of important First Amendment rights and serves no neutral, legitimate penological purpose.”
PLN argued that beginning in 2009, the NYDOCCS had placed its publication on a list of “disapproved vendors” because PLN accepts payments for subscription and book orders in the form of postage stamps, and publishes advertisements for alternative prison phone services, both of which are against NYDOCCS policy. PLN editor Paul Wright called these justifications “pretextual.” [See: PLN, Nov. 2011, p.12].
PLN filed suit as a last resort after repeatedly contacting the NYDOCCS and requesting that state prison officials stop their unconstitutional censorship of PLN’s publications and books. Those requests were ignored or denied.
On January 27, 2012, less than four months after PLN’s lawsuit was filed, the NYDOCCS issued a memo to all state prison superintendents. The memo stated that while PLN and other publications accept stamps as payment and include ads for services that violate NYDOCCS policy, “Rather than barring the introduction of these publications altogether or attempting to redact or remove all such objectionable advertisements from each publication, correctional facilities are to include, along with each publication,” a notice warning prisoners that they are subject to disciplinary action if they violate NYDOCCS rules related to postage stamps and phone services.