Skip to main content

On The Front Lines

Denouncing Government Efforts to Imprison the Mind, Rutherford Institute Asks Supreme Court to Protect Prisoners’ Access to Legal News

WASHINGTON, DC — Taking a stand against impermissible government efforts to imprison not only the body but also the mind, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to protect prisoners’ First Amendment right to access legal news and resources. Weighing in before the Court in Prison Legal News v. Secretary, Florida Dept. of Corrections, The Rutherford Institute partnered with the R Street Institute, Americans for Prosperity, The Cato Institute, and Reason Foundation to ask that the Court declare unconstitutional a ruled adopted by the Florida Dept. of Corrections that bans publications containing advertisements for, among other things, three-way calling services, pen pal services, and services allowing purchases to be made with postage stamps. As a result of the ban, Florida prisoners have been prevented from receiving Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly magazine that reports on prison issues, including prison labor, sexual misconduct, race relations, and the constitutional rights of prisoners. Advertisers in PLN include law firms, correspondence schools, pen pal services, phone services, and cash-for-stamps services.

Attorneys John N. Estes, III, Donald P. Salzman, Thomas A. Parnham, Jr., and Todd D. Kelly of Washington, DC, assisted The Rutherford Institute with the Prison Legal News brief. 

“With every new law enacted by federal and state legislatures, every new ruling handed down by government courts, and every egregious protocol employed by government agents, ‘we the people’ are being reminded that we possess no rights except for that which the government grants,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “In other words, in the American Police State, there is no difference between the treatment meted out to a law-abiding citizen and a convicted felon: both are equally suspect and treated as criminals, without any of the special rights and privileges reserved for the governing elite.”

Since 1990, Prison Legal News (PLN), a recipient of the Society of Professional Journalists’ First Amendment Prize, has reported on a host of issues related to jails and prisons. PLN funds its publication by selling advertising space to law firms that handle prisoner litigation, schools offering correspondence courses, pen pal services, phone services, and cash-for-stamps services, among others. Although publishers and prisoners have a First Amendment right to send and receive publications such as PLN, corrections departments have adopted rules and regulations requiring that publications received by inmates first be screened for material that would pose a safety risk. Florida’s DOC adopted a rule banning publications containing advertisements for, among other things, three-way calling services, pen pal services, and services allowing purchases to be made with postage stamps.  As a result of this rule, the Florida DOC has confiscated every issue of PLN destined for prisoners in one of its facilities since 2009, making it the only corrections department nationally that bans PLN from prisons.

PLN sued the Florida DOC asserting that the advertisement-based ban on its publication violates the First Amendment. A federal district court upheld the ban. On appeal, it was again upheld on the grounds that courts should defer to the judgment of prison officials on risks to security. In an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court, The Rutherford Institute and its coalition partners argue that Florida’s ban is unsupported by any security-based justification and serves only to deprive prisoners of materials that will assist in their education and rehabilitation in violation of the First Amendment.

Donate