Is it a violation of free speech to deny prisoners access to a magazine because of services advertised in the magazine?
That’s the question posed in a federal complaint filed by the publisher of Prison Legal News (PLN) after New Castle Correctional Facility staff failed to deliver copies to several of its inmates.
The complaint was filed last week in U.S. District Court for Indiana’s Southern District on behalf of the Human Rights Defense Center—publisher of PLN. It claims that GEO Group, the Florida-based private prison company that operates the New Castle Correctional Facility, violated the publisher’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by denying inmates access to the magazine— effectively censoring the publication.
GEO claims prisoners were denied delivery because the magazine contains advertisements for “pen-pal” services, which are banned under the Indiana Department of Correction’s Manual of Policies and Procedures.
Paul Wright, editor of Public Legal News, says the magazine has subscribers in several Indiana prisons and that New Castle is the only Indiana location he knows of where inmates are being denied access to it because of its advertising content. He says he doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence that the facility is operated by a private company.
"I believe its being used as a pretext," Wright says. "We’ve been critics of the private prison industry since our inception. I mean at this point you’ve got a private for-profit corporation using the power and authority granted by the government to crush the free speech of the independent media."
The Department of Correction declined to comment directly on pending litigation, but in an email DOC Spokesman Doug Garrison says the state will respond to the plaintiff’s claim at the appropriate time in keeping with “the department’s administrative role to maintain safety and security at correctional facilities."
Calls and an email to the New Castle Correctional Facility were not returned as of Tuesday afternoon.