Sunday, July 25, 2010

Banning Books in Prison

The logic of prisons being allowed to ban books—considering the abdication of a full possession of legal rights criminals relinquish as a result of attacking society—will itself, always be under attack, as reported by Business Week.

That is a good thing, as not waging a perennial legal struggle over the rights of people incarcerated in our nation's prisons, harms us all.

An excerpt.

“Virginia prison officials have unconstitutionally banned inmates from receiving a book that teaches them how to file lawsuits concerning mistreatment or poor prison conditions, the book's publishers claim in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

“National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights, both nonprofit civil rights organizations, sued state Department of Corrections Director Gene Johnson, officials at Coffeewood Correctional Center in Mitchells and members of the department's Publication Review Committee in federal court in Charlottesville.

“The groups claim the officials violated their First Amendment and due process rights when they restricted inmates' access to their book "Jailhouse Lawyer's Handbook: How to Bring a Federal Lawsuit to Challenge Violations of Your Rights in Prison." Corrections officials claimed the book was a danger to prison security or "good order."

"If it is dangerous to educate people about the Constitution, there are a lot of law schools who are going to be in trouble," said Rachel Meeropol, a CCR attorney who helped write the handbook.

“The lawsuit says a prisoner at Coffeewood received approval to order the free publication last fall, but when it arrived it was disapproved and sent to the state's Publication Review Committee.

“The committee upheld the decision to withhold the publication because its content was considered "detrimental to the security, good order, discipline of the facility, or offender rehabilitative efforts or the safety or health of offenders, staff, or others."

“The lawsuit claims the publishers were not notified about the decision as policy dictates, so they were unable to appeal it.

“Prison officials referred questions to the Attorney General's Office, which did not immediately return a request for comment.

“In the department's publication policy, it outlines the need to monitor what inmates read.

"Offenders retain certain First Amendment rights in regard to free access to publications," it reads. "Correctional administrators have equally valid responsibilities under the Code of Virginia to maintain security, discipline, and good order in their facilities."