Court: Prison policies on reading materials is unconstitutional
A federal court has declared state prison policies that restricted how inmates could receive publications and other reading material unconstitutional.
The decision this week by U.S. District Court Judge Monti Belot, of Wichita, came down in a lawsuit filed in 2002 by Prison Legal News, a monthly newsletter that covers corrections issues.
Attorneys Bruce Plenk and Maxwell Kautsch, of Lawrence, represented PLN.
According to the lawsuit, Kansas Department of Corrections policies prohibited prisoners from receiving gift subscriptions. Prisoners were instead required to pay for all publications from their prison trust accounts.
KDOC also limited how much prisoners could spend on publications to $40. And when publications were censored or rejected at prisons, notice was provided to the prisoner but not the publisher that had sent the material.
Prison officials said the restrictions were necessary for safety and security concerns.
For example, former KDOC Secretary Charles Simmons had said prohibiting outsiders from purchasing subscriptions was done because of concern that subscriptions could be provided “as a result of extortion, strong arming or debt collection,” according to Belot’s order.
Belot said that while he didn’t want to interfere with state prison policies, “the court concludes that the KDOC prison regulations are not reasonably related to the penological interests identified by the defendant.”
Belot ruled the cap on subscriptions and prohibiting against gift subscriptions were invalid. He said if a publication were censored or rejected by prison officials, notice needed to be sent to both the inmate and publisher.
PLN Editor Paul Wright praised the decision.
“Prisoners do not lose their First Amendment rights when incarcerated, and prison officials should not unduly restrict those rights or the rights of publishers,” Wright said.