(CN) – The U.S. government has joined a 2010 lawsuit against a South Carolina jail that forbids prisoners from receiving any reading materials other than the Bible.
South Carolina U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said the government decided to intervene in the case focusing on the Berkeley County Detention Center’s mail policy because of the constitutional issues at stake.
As reported by Courthouse News Service, the lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in October 2010 on behalf of the monthly journal Prison Legal News.
Since at least 2008, copies of the journal and other books and periodicals sent to prisoners at the detention center have been returned to the sender or simply discarded, according to the original complaint.
The Berkeley County Detention Center’s written policy on inmate mail reads: “The only mail allowed to be received by inmates are letters only. No packages are accepted at the Detention Center. The only exception to this is pictures. Inmates may receive three (3) pictures but they cannot be Polaroid.”
In an e-mail to Prison Legal News editor Paul Wright, as described in the lawsuit, 1st Sgt. K. Habersham said detainees are allowed to mail order soft-cover Bibles from publishers. But no other books, magazines or newspapers are allowed.
Among the books rejected was “Protecting Your Health & Safety,” which explains inmates’ legal rights regarding health and safety.
Berkeley County Sheriff Wayne DeWitt and several other employees at the detention center were named as defendants in the lawsuit, and are accused of violating the First and 14th Amendments.
“The policy in place at the Berkeley County Detention Center is nothing short of censorship, and there is no justification for shutting detainees off from the outside world in such a draconian way,” ACLU National Prison Project director David Fathi said in a statement. “The fact that the Justice Department has chosen to intervene in this case should send a clear signal to jail officials that systematically denying detainees access to books, magazines and newspapers is unconstitutional,” he added.