Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu Sued by National Prison Legal News, With Help From ACLU

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A national news magazine for prisoners is suing Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu in federal court for the right to distribute its publications to jail inmates.

Paul Wright, editor of the Vermont-based Prison Legal News, says he fully expects to win the case. He's forced jails and prisons in other states to accept the news magazine and informational paperbacks; still other cases launched by the magazine are pending.

"These unconstitutional censorship policies -- they don't hold up in court," Wright tell us.

He started the publication in 1990, while serving time in a Washington prison for first-degree murder.

These days, he's got about 7,000 paid subscribers. Much of the content is written by prisoners and former prisoners who share stories about the abuse of inmates' rights, corrupt officials and news about the prison system.

Wright has been trying for months to get free copies of his magazine to Pinal County jail inmates in the hopes that some inmates will subscribe or buy the books he also publishes.

The complaint says Babeu's jail policy limits incoming mail to one page, with the exception of paperback books being sent from publishers. As evidence, a link to the sheriff's office Web site is given, where an FAQ section states that:

"Magazines of any kind or hard cover books are not permitted, however paperback books (limited to 3) may be sent via a publisher or publishing company only using the address listed."

The complaint goes on to say that:

"Since at least February 2011 and continuing to the present day, Defendants have censored at least three different types of publications distributed by PLN: the monthly publication Prison Legal News and subscription notices for said publication; PLN's "Informational Brochure Pack" and individual brochures contained therein (including a Prison Legal News Brochure and Subscription Order Form, a Book List, and an Educational Courses Brochure); and the paperback book Protecting Your Health and Safety. The censorship took the form of failing to deliver the mailed material to the addressee."

Alleging violations of the First Amendment and other laws, Wright's complaint -- which targets both the sheriff and Pinal County -- asks the court to stop Babeu from censoring the publication. Wright also punitive damages and compensation for legal fees.

Attorneys are being provided by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, the Vermont-based Human Rights Defense Center and a San Francisco law firm, Rosen, Bien & Galvan.

In case you were wondering -- yes, Sheriff Joe Arpaio allows the Prison Legal News in Maricopa County jails, the big softie.

UPDATE: Sheriff Babeu's office says the publications were rejected by mistake.

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