May 26, 2017

Ohio private prison sued for censoring inmates’ reading materials

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A private prison in central Ohio has been accused of illegally censoring reading material that its inmates have access to.

On Wednesday, Courthouse News Service reported that a private Utah-based corporation that runs the North Central Correctional Complex (NCCC) in Marion, Ohio, has been sued by the nonprofit Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) for blocking inmates from receiving books on “criminal justice policies, legal research, health care issues and other similar topics.”

In the federal lawsuit, HRDC, which publishes and distributes a catalog of educational books for prisoners as well as the monthly magazine Prison Legal News, claimed that the correctional center had “refused to deliver 37 paperback books it has sent to various prisoners since December.”

According to HRDC, the “rejected books included The Habeas Citebook: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel, which describes the procedural and substantive complexities of federal habeas corpus litigation, Protecting Your Health and Safety, which describes the rights, protections and legal remedies available to prisoners, and Prisoner Diabetes Handbook, which provides guidance on treating and managing diabetes while incarcerated.”

In the lawsuit, HRDC notes that while Prison Legal News continues to the delivered to “the intended prisoner-recipients,” they claim that NCCC has “adopted a policy and practice of arbitrarily prohibiting receipt of various HRDC’s books,” violating “its First Amendment right to free speech and its Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and equal protection.”

While NCCC has yet to release any kind of statement in response, the suit renews questions about the the opaque decision-making process behind what kind of reading material is allowed in private, state, and federal prisons alike. As we’ve previously covered, the situation is particularly troubling in Texas, where the state Department of Criminal Justice maintains a 15,000-title list of banned books that includes such classics like Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Dante’s Inferno, and Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives, but not bigoted trash like David Duke’s Jewish Supremacism. Given the much larger challenges that advocates of criminal justice reform face, it’s an issue that may only ever be addressed in a few local cases like this one.

 

 

Kait Howard is a publicist at Melville House.

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