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Florida Prisons Sued for Banning Legal Magazine

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 14, 2015 5:59 AM

Prison Legal News, a monthly publication by the Human Rights Defense Center, isn't allowed in Florida state prisons. No, it's not the magazine's investigations into prison vendor misconduct or its reporting on inmate rights. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, it's the magazine's objectionable advertisements. Those ads? They're for things like stamps, three-way calling services, and pen pals.

Prison Legal News sued over the ban, which was largely upheld in October. Now, they've turned to the Eleventh Circuit, arguing that the prisons' ban infringes on the magazine's First Amendment rights. And they've got some ammunition in their corner. The suit is being lead by Former U.S. Solicitor General and regular Supreme Court litigator, Paul D. Clement.

Florida's Ban on Prison News

Prison Legal News is no stranger to First Amendment litigation and this will not be the first time PLN and the Florida Department of Corrections will have faced off in court. The prisoner magazine was first banned in 2003. Again, PLN advertising was ostensibly the reason. After PLN sued, prison officials changed their policy and ceased censoring the magazine. That is, until they began again a few years later.

In a press release, the Human Rights Defense Center claims that Florida is one of the only states to completely ban Prison Legal News because of advertising. According to Clement:

[Florida,] alone among the fifty States, the federal Bureau of Prisons, and every county jail in the country, is violating Prison Legal News's First Amendment Rights by impounding every issue of its magazine based on the publication's advertisements.

A Mixed Ruling From the District Court

In October, the district court rejected PLN's First Amendment claims. The court found that Florida's "expansive censorship of PLN was logically connected to its security concerns," according to Courthouse News. Ads for three-way calling created a risk that prisoners would mask "the true identity and location of a call recipient" through the services, the court found.

But, it wasn't a total loss for PLN. The district court also ruled that the prisons had failed to provide adequate notice that they were removing the magazines "a shocking 87 percent of the time."

The Human Rights Defense Center is asking the Eleventh Circuit to reverse the court's ruling on its First Amendment claims and to expand the district courts' injunction to require individual notice to each prisoner when the magazine is impounded.

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