Galveston County Jail Allows Prisoners to Receive Reading Materials
to Resolve Publisher’s Lawsuit
GALVESTON, Texas – Prison Legal News (PLN), a non-profit monthly publication that reports on criminal justice issues, can now send books and its magazine to prisoners at the Galveston County jail. A federal lawsuit filed by PLN on June 28, 2010 was resolved late last week, resulting in major changes to the jail’s publications policy.
"This is a significant victory for free speech rights," said Scott Medlock, Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s Prisoners’ Rights Program, which represented PLN. "Encouraging prisoners to read is one of the best ways to make sure when they’re released that they stay out of jail. Literacy is the most basic skill prisoners need, and developing their reading skills is a great use of their time in custody."
"Equally important is ensuring that jail officials do not censor reading material sent to prisoners in violation of the First Amendment," added PLN editor Paul Wright. "Government officials should not be in the business of telling people what they can and cannot read, whether they are incarcerated or not, absent legitimate security concerns that were not present in this case."
In addition to revising the jail’s publication policy, the Sheriff agreed to purchase seventeen self-help, educational and legal books and two five-year subscriptions to PLN’s magazine for the jail’s law library, where they will be made available to prisoners. Sheriff Poor is to be commended for quickly changing the jail’s unconstitutional policy and not squandering taxpayer resources defending an illegal policy. The settlement in this case protects the constitutional rights of publishers and jail prisoners, promotes public safety by encouraging literacy among prisoners and saves tax dollars in an era of fiscal austerity.
Before the suit was filed, the jail’s old policy only allowed prisoners to receive reading material "under special circumstances." A sergeant at the jail told PLN’s editor that prisoners were not allowed to receive books or magazines at all. "The old policy violated PLN’s free speech rights," explained Medlock. "The county did the right thing by changing the policy so publishers can send their books and magazines to inmates, while still protecting the jail’s interests in security."
The case is Prison Legal News v. Sheriff Freddie Poor, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Case No. 3:10-cv-00251.