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New York DOCCS Settles Statewide PLN Censorship Suit for $155,000

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.

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The Center for Legal Studies

By Dianne Frazee-Walker 

The Center for Legal Studies (CLS), founded by an attorney in 1980, is a 33-year-old nationwide legal education company that provides Live Lecture, Online, DVD, and Text-Only flexible curriculums for inmates or the public. Upon finishing a course students earn a certificate of completion from one of 150+ participating accredited colleges and universities throughout the country.   Image courtesy www.merchantcircle.com

From California to New York – Montana to Texas; 51 college and universities that partner with CLS offer the “Text Only” versions, specifically designed for inmates. These correspondence courses enable an incarcerated student to take a variety legal education courses without the use of computers or on-site instructors. Opportunities are available for students to gain exceptional legal training and earn certificates from well named schools from just about anywhere in the country.

Two leading universities have paved the way for text-only education directed towards incarcerated students. Adams State University located in Alamosa, Colorado (ASU), and Ohio University in Athens, Ohio (OU) have taken special interest in marketing the text-only division.  ASU offers CLS’s courses as part of a degree program which if a student qualifies would enable them to utilize Federal Student Aid. Ohio University was the first college to develop “College for the Incarcerated” and exclusively markets CLS courses as well as many other courses that are custom-tailored for inmates.

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