The publishers of a journal that reports on inmate rights is preparing for trial over Florida’s ban on the publication in state prisons.
The state’s prison system is the only one in the U.S. to ban Prison Legal News, said Paul Wright, editor and founder of the Lake Worth-based journal.
The publishers have sued Florida’s Department of Corrections over inmates’ access to the monthly journal. Trial is scheduled for January.
The agency declined comment on the lawsuit to The Palm Beach Post.
According to the journal, Florida inmates received copies of Prison Legal News by mail without incident until 2003, when state corrections officials said its advertisements for pen-pal services for inmates, three-way calling services and postage stamps posed a security threat.
The publishers sued and the journal returned to inmates in 2005. Access again has been blocked since 2009, Wright said.
According to court documents, state corrections officials argue that the pen pal services might allow inmates to run scams, and the stamps could be used as a kind of currency by prisons.
Prison Legal News has reported for 25 years on prison conditions and inmates’ legal rights. It is published by the Human Rights Defense Center, a Florida-based nonprofit inmate rights’ organization.
The journal also has sued correctional facilities and sheriff’s offices nationwide over inmates’ access to their subscriptions.
Advertising has become “an easy target” for corrections officials who can’t ban content without violating the First Amendment, said Miami Attorney Thomas Julin, who has filed a legal brief supporting Prison Legal News on behalf of The Florida Press Association, The First Amendment Foundation, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Society of Professional Journalists.
Prison Legal News also publishes a guide to mail-order education courses and a handbook on diabetes management for inmates. Wright said those also have been banned by state corrections officials.
Wright started Prison Legal News from his jail cell in Washington, where he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the shooting death of a drug dealer. He was released in 2003.