Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Don't feel too bad, golf magazines aren't allowed either

A few weeks ago I tried to forward a couple of James' magazines to him. Even though one was still in its original clear wrapper, he didn't receive either. The one I put in an envelope was returned to our house, with a huge stamp declaring it CONTRABAND. So if the postman didn't know where James was before then, he does now.

Turns out censorship is certainly the name of the game at Dallas County Jail. This, from February 2007, is from the Web site www.prisonlegalnews.org:

Prison Rights Magazine Files Suit Against Dallas County Jail for Violations of First Amendment Rights

Prison Legal News, a non-profit monthly publication, filed suit today in Dallas federal court against Dallas County, Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Deputy Gary Lindsey after the Dallas County Jail banned all newspapers, magazines and other publications from entering the Dallas County Jail.

"If there was ever a jail where prisoners needed to know their legal rights, it’s the Dallas County Jail," said Prison Legal News’ editor, Paul Wright. "The jail is scheduled to be closed down by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards in the next three months, but now the prisoners there can’t access a legitimate magazine that advises them of their constitutional rights."

"The First Amendment to the Constitution protects publishers’ rights to communicate with inmates," explained Prison Legal News’ attorney, Scott Medlock of the Texas Civil Rights Project. "Last year, without telling anyone, the jail decided to stop allowing inmates to receive magazines and newspapers. Numerous courts around the country have held these policies are unconstitutional. Dallas County stands alone in violating the First Amendment."

The jail policy claims prisoners do not need access to publications like Prison Legal News because they can watch the televisions available in the cell blocks. (NB: The televisions don't work half the time.)

"It’s been awhile since I’ve seen an in depth discussion of constitutional rights on any television program," scoffed Medlock. "Inmates in the jail have paid from their own pockets for subscriptions to Prison Legal News. The First Amendment gives them the right to receive it."

Prison Legal News is a monthly 48-page magazine dealing with the rights of incarcerated individuals. It provides information about court access, disciplinary hearings, prison conditions, excessive force, mail censorship, jail litigation, visitation, telephones, religious freedom, prison rape, and the death penalty. It has been published continuously since 1990. Prison Legal News has approximately 5,600 subscribers nationwide, and nine subscribers who are currently incarcerated in the Dallas County Jail.

Prison Legal News is seeking a temporary injunction requiring the jail to deliver its magazine to the inmates who subscribe to it, and stop the county from violating the constitution. The case is Prison Legal News v. Lindsey and the case is filed in federal court in Dallas. PLN is represented by Scott Medlock of the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin, Texas.

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