Prison Legal News Rejected by Mistake, Pinal County Sheriff's Office Says; "They Need to Settle" Federal Complaint, Says Mag's Editor

Magazines and paperbacks sent to the Pinal County Jail were rejected by mistake, a spokesman for Sheriff Paul Babeu said today in response to news of a federal lawsuit.

As we reported earlier today, the national Prison Legal News launched a federal complaint against Babeu and Pinal County this week after jail officials refused to let inmates have copies of its publications.

Babeu's spokesman, Tim Gaffney, called us back after we published the first blog post and told us the problem stems from a mail-room mistake.

The jail shouldn't have refused the printed materials and won't do so in the future, he said.

Since the federal complaint hasn't been served on Babeu's office yet, the office's command staff hadn't heard of it. After we sent Gaffney a link to a copy of the complaint, Pinal's Adult Detention Center chief looked into the matter, Gaffney says.

It was then discovered that, on three occasions, "the mail room in error did not accept the publications and returned them to the sender," Gaffney told us in an e-mail. "...There was a communications breakdown on our end. Our Command Staff was never notified of this issue until now but will ensure it does not occur again in the future."

Yet something's not adding up: The complaint states that 50 magazines, about 30 paperbacks and other publications, each addressed to individual inmates, were rejected and returned.

Although Gaffney said he heard that magazines are definitely allowed, the jail's Web site states that they're not. And when we called the jail this afternoon, two officers confirmed that magazines are not permitted.

"None whatsoever," said one officer.

Gaffney said the problem must be a training issue that the sheriff's office will correct.

Paul Wright, editor of the Prison Legal News (and a convicted murderer who's well acquainted with life in the Big House), tells New Times that if Pinal County admits the rejection of his publications was a mistake, "they need to settle the case, then."

It seems awfully convenient that Sheriff Babeu's office realized its error only after being slapped with a lawsuit, Wright quips. Even worse, he adds, "it's kind of pathetic they're trying to blame their low-level mail-room staff."

While the statements from Babeu's office might not jibe completely with the evidence, perhaps Wright ought to be a better sport. It sounds like he's won his case while still in the starting block.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.