In December 2013, Prison Legal News settled a federal lawsuit against Upshur County, Texas that alleged unconstitutional censorship when PLN’s publications were rejected by jail officials. The suit, filed in October 2012, named the county, Sheriff Anthony Betterton and Sheriff’s Lt. Jill McCauley as defendants.
According to the complaint, the Upshur County jail’s inmate handbook contained “no written criteria explaining when a publication will be rejected,” and the jail’s mail policy did “not provide a sender any notice or explanation when a book is censored.”
PLN mailed copies of its monthly publication to prisoners at the jail, as well as letters, renewal notices, brochures and copies of a book titled Protecting Your Health and Safety. The jail rejected approximately 90 of PLN’s publications over a one-year period, stamping them “No Newspaper,” “Unauthorized Mail,” “Not Approved” or “Refused.” The jail also rejected legal mail sent to prisoners by PLN’s attorneys. No notice was provided regarding this censorship, and PLN was not afforded an opportunity to appeal the rejection of its publications.
“The purpose of jail is to hold the criminally accused for trial, not to punish them,” said Lance Weber, general counsel for the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), PLN’s non-profit parent organization. “Depriving pretrial detainees too poor to afford bail – who are presumed innocent – of access to information that could assist them in enforcing their rights is inexcusable.”
On September 30, 2013, the district court granted PLN’s motion for a preliminary injunction, finding “The evidence suggests that at least some of PLN’s correspondence with prisoners has been withheld from its intended recipients, depriving Plaintiff of its First Amendment rights without due process of law.”