July 22, 2010

Virginia prison system sued for banning book about how to sue the Virginia prison system


“Two civil rights organizations are suing Virginia prison officials because they banned inmates from receiving a book teaching them how to file lawsuits against prisons,” reports an Associated Press wire story.

The story says the National Lawyers Guild and Melville House authors the Center for Constitutional Rights sued the director of the Virginia Department of Corrections, as well as “officials at Coffeewood Correctional Center and members of the department’s Publication Review Committee,” for banning prisoners from reading The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook.

According to the CCR’s website, the Handbook — which is available as a download here

… explains how a person in a state prison can start a lawsuit in the federal court, to fight against mistreatment and bad conditions. The Handbook does not assume that a lawsuit is the only way to challenge poor treatment or that it is always the best way. It only assumes that a lawsuit can sometimes be one useful weapon in the ongoing struggle to change prisons and the society that makes prisons the way they are.

The NLG and the CCR charge the ban violated prisoners’ First Amendment and due process rights.

Prison officials had no comment.

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives