The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), a Florida-based nonprofit that aims to protect the rights of U.S. inmates, has filed a lawsuit in a federal court against the Los Angeles County Jail, alleging the facility has been withholding criminal justice magazines and court documents from inmates.
HRDC alleged that L.A. County Jail, the facility with the most pretrial detainees in the country, is not distributing their monthly magazine, Prison Legal News (PLN) to the general population of its men's central jail or to its restrictive housing unit, K-10, PR Newswire reported. PLN contains information regarding criminal justice matters and civil litigation relating to prison and jail.
The nonprofit says the magazines are returned from the prison with labels stamped on them that read "CONTENTS UNACCEPTABLE," "UNACCEPTABLE READING MATERIAL" and "BANNED."
"Pretrial detainees have already been stripped of their freedom, but the L.A. County Jail isn't stopping there. It is illegally denying prisoners constitutionally protected, free speech materials that might actually teach them about their rights while behind bars," said Paul Wright, executive director of HRDC.
The HRDC also alleges the jail has blocked inmates from receiving copies of a court decision pertaining to prison rules at least seven times.
The activist organization said in the suit that by barring inmates from these documents and literature, the L.A. County Jail is violating state and federal free speech, due process rights, and California's Bane Act, which protects a person's federal and state constitutional rights in the event that those rights are violated by an officer.
According to Margo Schlanger, a professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School who specializes in civil rights issues and civil and criminal detention, it is likely the jail's actions would be considered as disregarding constitutional rights and free speech, depending on "why the jail made the decision" to withhold the documents and "what other methods [the facility] could have used."
"The government can only restrict the First Amendment rights of prisoners if it has a good reason," Schlanger told Northern California Record. "But there's no good reason to block information like this from going to inmates. It's a good idea for prisoners to be able to read about current events."
Schlanger predicted the HRDC could be victorious in this litigation.
"The HRDC has brought dozens of these cases and has won or settled nearly all of them," Schlanger said.