The ACLU of Florida (ACLUFL) and the Florida Justice Institute, representing Prison Legal News (PLN), a project of the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), today filed a federal lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) for preventing Florida inmates from receiving publications about the legal rights of prisoners. The complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, states that the FDOC violates PLN’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by refusing to deliver its publications to prisoners at FDOC facilities.
“The FDOC is engaging in illegal censorship,” stated Randall Marshall, Legal Director for the ACLU of Florida. “These publications provide inmates with vital information about their legal rights. Individuals in FDOC’s custody have a right to access these publications, and the FDOC has a constitutional duty to respect that right.”
“This illegal conduct by the FDOC is precisely the type of activity the First Amendment was meant to protect. It is why our country was founded in the first place, and the reason free speech and freedom of the press is in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights,” added Randall Berg, lead counsel and President of the Florida Justice Institute.
As described in the complaint, the FDOC is currently preventing the delivery of PLN’s monthly publication, Prison Legal News – which is comprised of writings from legal scholars, attorneys, prisoners and news wire services – to inmates in Florida prisons. None of the publications at issue violate FDOC policies or regulations, yet they are being censored due to PLN’s advertising content, such as ads for pen-pal services
“The FDOC is imposing a blanket ban on all of PLN’s publications, including our self-help books for prisoners, because they don’t like some of our advertisers,” said PLN editor Paul Wright. “We believe that is entirely pretextual and an unjustified, exaggerated response that is being used to uphold unconstitutional censorship in violation of the First Amendment. Government officials should not be in the business of deciding what publications people are allowed to receive, even when those people are in prison, absent legitimate security concerns.”
PLN had previously sued the FDOC over similar censorship, and the FDOC changed its policy at that time to allow PLN to be distributed to Florida state prisoners. However, despite assurances that it would not reinstate the prior policy and continue censoring PLN’s publications, the FDOC did exactly that, even though PLN’s content had not changed.