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Greene County held back newsletters, other items from jail inmates. Why it’s now paying for it.

Greene County has changed its jail policies and now must pay tens of thousands of dollars as part of a settlement agreement ending a federal case filed by a national nonprofit group that sends publications to people in jails and prisons.

County commissioners recently approved paying Human Rights Defense Center $45,000 as part of the agreement that ends HRDC’s lawsuit that began with a federal injunction request in October 2017.

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The Dayton Daily News first reported about the case in January. HRDC filed for a federal injunction, demanding the judge to stop Greene County Jail’s practice of stopping the delivery of their publications and correspondences to inmates, including their newsletter titled Prison Legal News.

By refusing to deliver HRDC’s publications and correspondence to the prisoners, defendants are violating HRDC’s free speech rights,” HRDC’s complaint read.

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Within a matter of weeks after receiving the court injunction, jail policy and practices were changed, according to Major Kirk Keller, Greene County’s jail administrator.

Keller said HRDC’s correspondences with inmates were prevented out of safety concerns, in part because there were staples in some of the literature.

“Staples are often used in the process of tattooing, and it becomes a health risk to the inmates,” Keller said. “We want to keep inmates safe and secure. Having reading material is not the issue. If inmates have material to occupy their minds … that’s a good thing.”

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Originally called Prison Legal News, HRDC is based in Lake Worth, Fla., and was co-founded in 1990 by Paul Wright.

Court records show lawyers for HRDC state the organization’s mission is “to educate prisoners and the public about the destructive nature of racism, sexism, and the economic and social costs of prisons to society.”

Wright said stopping publications from being delivered to inmates because of staples is “a bogus claim” in-part because the jail was intercepting other publications that didn’t have them.

“The cost of the case was relatively low because the jail settled the case fairly quickly and didn’t drag it out too much,” Wright said. “If they had just followed the law in the first place, they wouldn’t have been sued.”

Prison Legal News or HRDC is listed as a plaintiff in dozens of court cases. Wright said his organization has a team of lawyers whose top mission is to make sure prisoners across the country can receive his organization’s book, magazines and other publications.

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“The First Amendment doesn’t defend itself,” Wright said. “I think this illustrates the importance of federal courts to safeguard our First Amendment rights … to be able to send and receive ideas and information in this country.”

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