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FL prohibits distribution of Prison Legal News

Image: prisonlegalnews.org
Image: prisonlegalnews.org

If you’re serving time in prison, it would probably interest you to read news about dangerous cost-cutting measures made by for-profit prison corporations or excessive fees charged to inmates to make phone calls home. That’s why Prison Legal News, a publication that’s been serving prison-centric news and editorials to subscribers since 1990, is such a popular publication among prison inmates around the country.

But in Florida, the state Department of Corrections is keeping the monthly magazine out of prisoners’ hands, claiming that ads in the magazine pose threats to prison safety. Since 2009 the state has intercepted subscriptions to prisoners, and in 2011, the publication sued the DOC charging it with violating the First Amendment. The court battle has had its ups and downs, but last week, a number of journalism organizations, including the American  Society of News Editors and the Society for Professional Journalists, filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of Prison Legal News, pointing out that if the state could be permitted to arbitrarily prohibit one publication based on advertising, what’s to stop it from banning others – say, traditional daily papers like the Miami Herald or the Gainesville Sun, which are occasionally critical of the state? And what’s to stop other state agencies from doing likewise?

"If the state can prohibit distribution of Prison Legal News in Florida prisons simply because it carries advertising for products of services prisoners cannot acquire or use, the state also could prohibit distribution of most publications," the brief points out. "Even worse, if the Court were to interpret the First Amendment as allowing the challenged rule to survive, local governments that prohibit the sale of certain products and services also could ban newspapers and magazines that carry advertisements for those products and services.”

That’s not something anyone – in prison or not – should take lightly.