News

Controlling the Narrative

Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan J. Reilly of the Huffington Post made headlines after being confronted, assaulted and arrested without justification in Ferguson, Missouri.  At almost the same time a television crew from Al Jazeera America watched helplessly as SWAT teams lobbed tear gas at them.  The Al Jazeera crew was filming a

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Practicing Religion in the Federal Bureau of Prisons

By Christopher Zoukis Any inmate who wishes to practice his or her religious tradition while confined in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is generally permitted to do so, subject to several penological restrictions. Inmates’ Right to Practice Religion The right to free exercise of religion guaranteed in the Constitution’s First Amendment applies to everyone,

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Attorney Fees Not Exempt from Disclosure Under California Public Records Act

By Prison Legal News

The California Court of Appeal held on November 16, 2012 that billing and payment records reflecting the amount of money a government agency paid in attorney fees to defend against a pending civil rights action were not exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act (CPRA), Government Code § 6250 et seq., even if the information was sought by a person seeking to assist the plaintiff litigants.

Attorneys David Mann and Donald Cook represent the plaintiffs in a civil rights lawsuit that has been pending in Los Angeles County Superior Court since 1999. That suit, which arose out of the arrest and detention of a husband and wife by members of the county’s Task Force for Regional Autotheft Prevention, has been the subject of numerous appellate proceedings, including Venegas v. County of Los Angeles, 153 Cal. App. 4th 1230 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 2007). Following an unpublished appellate decision in August 2011, the case was remanded to the lower court for trial on the sole remaining claim involving a violation of Civil Code § 52.1.

Attorney Cynthia Anderson-Barker, a colleague of Mann and Cook, filed a public records request seeking documents pertaining to billings from, and payments to, any law firm representing the county in the Venegas litigation. After the county denied the CPRA request, Anderson-Barker, represented by Mann and Cook, filed a petition for writ of mandate to compel disclosure of the records.

The county argued in response to the petition that, under the CPRA’s “pending litigation” exemption (Government Code § 6254(b)), as well as other exemptions, it was not required to produce the documents. The trial court ruled in favor of Anderson-Barker, though ordered redactions to remove attorney work product-related information from the requested billing and payment records.

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Is Halloween Law Needed?

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

The scary things of Halloween such as, ghosts, goblins and razor blade ridden apples are now in the past. In today’s world parents and children have a new set of haunting concerns.

Last Thursday evening as the sun was setting children emerged into neighborhoods questing for ‘tricks or treats.” Homes were inventively decorated with carved jack-o-lanterns and orange lights strung randomly around windowsills. Children dressed in costumes ran down sidewalks, anticipating what treats awaited them at the next house.

But wait….what is this? The house is dark, not a light on in the house. It almost looks haunted. There is a sign in the yard and it is not part of the Halloween décor. The sign reads, “No candy or treats at this residence.” This appears to be the scariest house on the street.

The Los Angeles Times reports that under a southern California ordinance created by Girard Mayor James Melfi, called the Girard Law, sex offenders were barred from putting up Halloween displays and outside lighting. Offenders listed on the Megan’s Law website were required to post a sign in front of their house that gives children the message there will be no candy handed out here.

A small group of Simi Valley registered sex-offenders protested the law because the policy is discriminatory and infringing on their personal rights to participate in a customary holiday. According to Attorney and president of the California Reform Sex Offender Laws group, Janice Bellucci, who represented the five sex offenders in the suit, the law reeks of discrimination and is reminiscent of when Nazis made Jews wear yellow stars. The city was sued for encroaching on offenders’ freedom of speech and ordered to remove the signs.

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Can Federal Prisoners Blog From Prison?

By Christopher Zoukis

Yesterday a regular Prison
Law Blog
reader, who is preparing to self-report to a Federal Prison Camp,
brought a question to our attention.  He
asked, “Once I self-surrender, can I blog from prison?”  As regular readers of the Prison Law Blog
know, we love tackling First Amendment in the correctional context issues.  We provide some answers on blogging from
prison.

The Question: Can I
Blog From Prison?

Federal prisoners, and those in state custody for that
matter, have a right to the exercise of their First Amendment privileges. 
In the prison context, this means creatively writing and seeking
publication for those creative writings. 
These creative writings could be letters, articles, blog posts, books,
reports, studies, or even drawings.*1  Yes,
even political cartoons are protected by the First Amendment.

The most common question concerns writing in the electronic
realm.  This is a grayer area, but a
solid one from the case law perspective. 
The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ “Manuscript” program statement
clearly states that prisoners are allowed to write for publication and they can
mail out their manuscripts as general correspondence, without staff approval or
authorization.  This is in line with the
BOP’s “Correspondence” program statement.  These program statements, though, don’t
specifically authorize federal prisoners
to write for electronic publication. 
After all, the “Manuscript” program statement was promulgated
in the 1990s, back when the internet wasn’t commonplace in homes and really
wasn’t heard of on cell phones. 
Regardless of the lack of specific and direct authorization to write for
the online marketplace, the Prison Law
Blog
asserts — as case law and other experts in the field support — that
prisoners have a right to write for online publication, either on a personal
blog or at larger media or creative writing outlets (e.g., the Huffington Post, Slate.com, Salon.com, ANDmagazine.com etc.).

Restrictions on Content

In terms of the writing itself, the only real area to be
mindful of is the content.  Prisoners
most certainly can voice their objections to or feelings about anything.  They can also voice their political, personal,
and other sorts of opinions.  But what
they can’t do is violate existing laws through their writings or, more specific
to the prison context, write anything which would hinder the “good order,
security, or operations of the institution.”

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PLN Prevails in Challenge to Postcard-only Policy at Oregon Jail

By Prison Legal News

On April 24, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon held that a postcard-only policy at the Columbia County Jail, which restricted mail sent to and from detainees at the facility to postcards, was unconstitutional. The court therefore permanently prohibited enforcement of the policy – the first time that a jail’s postcard-only policy has been struck down following a trial on the merits.

The ruling, by federal judge Michael H. Simon, was entered in a lawsuit against Columbia County and Sheriff Jeff Dickerson filed by Prison Legal News. PLN sued in January 2012 after Columbia County jail employees rejected PLN’s monthly publication and letters sent to detainees. Further, the jail had failed to provide PLN with notice or an opportunity to appeal the jail’s censorship of its materials. [See: PLN, March 2013, p.50].

The rejection of PLN’s publications and letters was attributed to the jail’s postcard-only policy and a policy or practice that prohibited prisoners from receiving magazines. PLN contended that such policies violated its rights under the First Amendment, and that the lack of notice and opportunity to appeal was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

During the litigation the defendants admitted “that inmates have a First Amendment right to receive magazines and inmates and their correspondents have a Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process.” However, the jail defended its postcard-only policy and claimed there was no official policy that banned magazines at the jail.

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No Free Speech Protection for Prisoners Who Copy Excerpts from Books

By Christopher Zoukis Prisoners who copy “arguably inflammatory” or “incendiary” passages from the books they check out from a prison library or are allowed to purchase are not entitled to rely on the First Amendment to protect them from disciplinary punishment, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held on August 2, 2012.

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The First Amendment in Twenty-First Century American Corrections

By Christopher Zoukis The other day a friend asked me a question.  The question was, “What does the future of the battle for prisoners’ rights look like?”  To this, I responded that the battle ground will most likely revolve around the First Amendment; that we, as prisoner rights advocates, would have to fight for the

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The Right to Write: Publishing From Prison

Since the formation of our nation, Americans have enjoyed a right to Free Speech that is unrivaled among modern nations.  The right has long survived incarceration as well, from the 1800s Henry David Thoreau’s “On Civil Disobedience” to the Letters from Birmingham Jail, by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement of

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