Topeka The American Civil Liberties Union and a Vermont publisher of a prison magazine are suing the Shawnee County Commission over a policy that bans inmates from receiving books and publications in the mail.
The lawsuit, filed last week in federal court in Topeka, also names Richard Kline, director of the county’s corrections department. It contends that the ban violates the inmates’ constitutional rights to free speech and other civil rights, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Wednesday.
Shawnee County counselor Rich Eckert said the ACLU and Prison Legal News of Brattleboro, Vt., didn’t notify the county or seek permission to distribute the publication before the lawsuit was filed.
“I don’t have a problem with their publication in the jail,” Eckert said.
The Shawnee County Jail’s website says no packages, newspapers, magazines, books or other personal property are to be mailed to the jail.
Eckert said only the county commission has the authority to amend the policy to comply with legal objections, but it was never notified of the plaintiff’s objections.
The policy prohibited the distribution to inmates of Prison Legal News, subscription renewal letters, informational brochures and soft-cover books since at least November, the lawsuit says.
“It’s hard to rationalize a total ban,” said ACLU attorney Doug Bonney. “We don’t think there is a purpose.”
Prison Legal News has been involved in dozens of lawsuits since 1999 and has a “good track record” of challenging corrections department policies on access, Bonney said.
Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, said the jail’s policy was an “egregious violation” of constitutional rights.
“One would think that law enforcement officials would be in the business of upholding the Constitution, not violating it on a daily basis by enforcing such ill-conceived policies,” Wright said.