PHOENIX (CN) - The Arizona Department of Corrections refused to deliver a news magazine to prisoners because it contained factual stories about nonconsensual "sexual contact between jail or prison guards and prisoners," Prison Legal News claims in Federal Court.
"Rape and sexual abuse by corrections employees is an unfortunate reality," Prison Legal News editor Paul Wright said.
"Rather than censor our reporting of such incidents, including court rulings in lawsuits brought by prisoners who were sexually abused by prison employees, the ADC's [Arizona Department of Correction's] efforts would be better spent ensuring that its staff members do not rape or victimize prisoners."
Prison Legal News has filed lawsuits across the nation - often successfully - after jails and prisons refused to let inmates receive its monthly magazine. The 72-page magazine is written by and for prisoners, and focuses on legal issues and rulings of particular interest to them.
But the Arizona Department of Corrections "adopted and implemented mail policies and a pattern of practices that unconstitutionally prevent distribution of Prison Legal News' monthly publication to subscribers in Arizona Department of Corrections facilities," Prison Legal News says in the Nov. 6 lawsuit.
Wright says that such censorship is a continuing problem in jails and prisons, but this one seems egregious. "The censored issues contain articles that include non-salacious descriptions of sexual activity to make clear the factual basis for legal cases of interest to PLN's readers," the complaint states. "In particular, defendants refuse to deliver issues of PLN's monthly publication to subscribers in ADC facilities when those issues contain articles describing sexual contact between jail or prison guards and prisoners to which the prisoners did not consent."
Prison Legal News "engages in core protected speech and expressive conduct on matters of public concern, such as the operations of corrections facilities, jail and prison conditions, prisoner health and safety, and prisoners' rights" and regularly receives correspondence from prisoners in prisons and jails across the nation, it says in the lawsuit.
It has 97 subscribers in Arizona prisons, which in March 2014 began refusing to deliver issues from March, April, July and October 2014, without returning undelivered copies to Prison Legal News or providing notice of refusal to deliver the copies, PLN says.
It learned of the non-deliveries from subscribers and notified ADC Director Charles L. Ryan of the censorship, and his department agreed to deliver the issues, but did not, according to the complaint.
The prisons department prohibits delivery of pornography and material that depicts various sexual acts, but has no policy against delivering publications that describe sexual acts "in a non-salacious way as part of an article reporting the facts of a court case or published legal decision, such as the articles in the issues of Prison Legal News that defendants censored," the complaint states.
Prison Legal News says the censorship goes beyond its own magazine, and includes issues of many popular magazines, such as National Geographic, Bloomberg Business, Newsweek and The Economist.
The American Civil Liberties Union looked into the matter this year and was told the Department of Corrections stopped delivery of the March 2014 issue of Prison Legal News due to "'riots/work stoppage/resistance'" and "'unacceptable sexual or hostile behaviors'" without specifying which articles or pages raised concerns, PLN says.
Prison Legal News says that issue contained no content regarding such issues or anything that might encourage the behavior to which corrections officials objected, nor did other issues that were not delivered.
It seeks declaratory judgment that the prisons department violated the First and 14th Amendments, an injunction, court costs, and nominal and punitive damages.
Officials with the Arizona Department of Corrections were not available for comment Wednesday due to the Veterans Day holiday.