A Win for Prisoners To Receive Publications

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

In a victory for prisoner rights, a federal appeals court has found that corrections officials cannot prevent inmates from receiving bulk mail sent at nonprofit postal rates. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in February ruled that the Oregon Department of Corrections violated the First Amendment rights of prisoners by refusing to deliver bulk mail.

The ruling came in a lawsuit brought on behalf of three prisoners and the publisher of Prison Legal News, a newsletter addressing prison-related issues. One of the plaintiffs had not received his subscription to Prison Legal News for two years because the publication is sent at bulk mail rate, which provides a vital financial benefit for nonprofit groups. Another plaintiff sought to receive material from the International Prison Ministry, a nonprofit organization that sends out Bibles and other religious literature by bulk mail.

The ACLU-WA submitted an amicus brief in the case arguing that prison officials can prevent a prisoner from receiving publications of his or her choice only when they can show there is a valid management reason, such as maintaining security. Reversing a lower court decision, the Ninth Circuit ruling rejected all the rationales offered by corrections officials for restricting delivery of bulk mail. Cooperating attorney Joseph Bringman of Perkins Coie wrote the ACLU's brief.

The ACLU previously won a similar case involving Washington prisoners in federal district court. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling sets a precedent for a several-state region, including Washington.