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DOJ Joins Case on Jail’s Bibles-Only Policy

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) - The Department of Justice has joined a 2010 lawsuit against a South Carolina jail that bars prisoners from receiving any reading materials other than the Bible.

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said the government decided to intervene in the case involving the Berkeley County Detention Center's mail policy because of the constitutional issues at stake.

The ACLU sued the jail in October 2010 behalf of Prison Legal News, a monthly based in Vermont.

According to the original complaint, copies of Prison Legal News and other books and periodicals sent to prisoners at the jail have been returned to senders or simply discarded.

The Berkeley County Detention Center's policy on inmate mail states: "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."

Prison Legal News editor Paul Wright claimed 1st Sgt. K. Habersham sent him an email stating that detainees are allowed to order from a publisher and receive by mail a soft-cover Bible, but no other books, magazines, or newspapers are allowed.

Among the books rejected was Protecting Your Health & Safety, which explains inmates' legal rights.

Berkeley County Sheriff Wayne DeWitt and several employees at the detention center were named as defendants, accused of violating the First and Fourteenth 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," David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project, said in a statement.

Fathi praised the Justice Department's decision to intervene.

"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 said.

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