By DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A federal judge has ordered the Missouri Department of Corrections not to block books or letters from being delivered to prisoners without providing the people who sent the items a notification and a chance to appeal.
The preliminary injunction was touted Friday by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had filed suit on behalf of a publisher that claimed personnel at the Crossroads Correctional Facility in Cameron seized several copies of books mailed to prisoners in November 2010.
"This decision will have a significant positive impact not only for publishers, but for anyone who communicates with prisoners," said Brenda Jones, executive director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. "They'll now know with certainty if their letters reach their intended recipients and have some recourse if they don't."
The Department of Corrections declined to comment Friday, citing the ongoing litigation.
The department's censorship procedures say inmates can receive correspondence and written or recorded materials so long as they "pose no threat to the safety and security of the institution, public officials, offenders, or the general public; do not hinder the rehabilitation of an offender; (and) are not being used to further illegal or deceptive activities."
In a decision dated Thursday, U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey cited First Amendment liberties and due process rights while ordering the department to provide notice to senders whose communications are censored or seized, plus a chance to appeal.
The lawsuit was filed by Bobbie Lane, whom court documents identify as the owner of the Caged Potential publishing company and the cousin of inmate Sultan Lane, who wrote a book entitled "So far from Paradise." Online records of the Department of Corrections show Sultan Lane is serving a 25-year sentence for first-degree robbery, first-degree tampering and felony drug possession.
The lawsuit said that seven copies of the book were mailed to inmates who never received them, and the publisher never received notice from the department that the books had been intercepted.
Laughrey previously granted class-action status to the lawsuit to cover "all current and future publishers, distributors, and authors of written materials, who mail books, publications, or other written materials to inmates" in Missouri prisons.