CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CN) – The National Lawyers Guild sued the Virginia Department of Corrections in Federal Court for banning the Guild’s “Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook” from state prisons. The Guild claims the state barred the book without notice, “even though the publication contains legal information that does not implicate legitimate security concerns.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights joined the Guild in its constitutional complaint against eight directors of the Virginia Department of Corrections.
The Guild described its handbook, subtitled, “How to Bring a Federal Lawsuit to Challenge Violations of Your Rights in Prison,” as a “free resource for prisoners and their family members who wish to learn about legal options to challenge mistreatment in prison and to assist prisoners in conducting pro se litigation regarding their prison conditions.”
The guild claims the Virginia prison system “disapproved possession of the book” without notice, and without giving the Guild a chance to be heard.
Wardens of Virginia prisons have the authority to ban books, but certain factors are used to make the determination, the Guild says in its complaint. Sexual content or material that could be detrimental to security and good order of the prison are some of the factors used to determine if a publication should not be allowed.
The Guild says that its handbook “does not implicate legitimate security concerns.”
It says it’s working on an updated version of the handbook. The Guild seeks an injunction to make the book available to all prisoners who request it.
It also wants seeks compensatory and punitive damages, for lack of notice and constitutional violations.
The nonprofit National Lawyers Guild, founded in 1937, was the first racially integrated voluntary Bar group in the United States, according to the complaint.
It’s represented by Jeffrey Fogel.