Federal court settlement reached between Greene County, human rights organization

Policies have changed at the Greene County Jail after the county settled a brief lawsuit filed by the Human Rights Defense Center, a not-for-profit organization that provides books and literature to inmates.

The lawsuit, filed in October in U.S. District Court Southern District of Ohio Western Division, was resolved for injunctive relief before the end of the year, according to court documents. Under the settlement, the jail will no longer prohibit inmates from receiving books and literature from publishers.

Payment for damages and attorneys fees will be settled separately at a later date, according to Paul Wright, HRDC founder and executive director.

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“The county should be commended. They moved quickly to resolve the suit and truly have a constitutional publication policy at the jail,” Wright said. “The agreement conforms with case law that’s been established in the past 40 years or so.”

Florida-based HRDC claimed their First and 14th amendments were being violated because the county jail was not allowing their publications and mailings to be delivered to inmates, according to the lawsuit. In addition, there was “a lack of due process” on the part of the county, which will now be required to notify the sender when a book or mailing is not delivered, according to the settlement.

The 501(c)(3) nonprofit publishes and distributes the Prison Legal News, a national monthly journal of corrections news and analysis, as well as books about the criminal justice system, legal reference books and self-help books as well as other correspondence to jail inmates.

HRDC’s mission is to shine a spotlight on abuses and systemic problems in the jails and prisons across the country and to give a voice to those affected by the criminal justice system, Wright said.

“Prisons are the least transparent of all American institutions and there’s a reason it’s that way … because of the lack of accountability for the rapes, murders, brutalization and dehumanization of the people in our jail system,” he said.

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The agreement means the county will not “censor or otherwise fail to deliver the items mailed to prisoners” at the jail by HRDC, and that the county agrees that the publications “did not and do not threaten any legitimate penological interests of the jail and will not be censored in the future,” the settlement reads.

The settlement also states that the county cannot block delivery of the Prison Legal News because it has staples. Jail personnel can remove the staples from the publication before delivering it to inmates, according to the settlement.

Major Kirk Keller, Greene County Jail administrator, said policies were adjusted as a result of the settlement so that any publications or communications coming from a publisher will not be blocked from delivery to inmates.

“It wasn’t difficult to come to a settlement,” Keller said. “Generally speaking, for safety and security there’s certain things we don’t allow. Some of the things we were doing for the sake of safety and security had to change.”

Keller said people can and do hide drugs in books, on postage stamps and stickers to get it to an inmate in the jail.

“Drug contents can be liquefied and put on a page where you only need to add water to activate it,” he said. “There’s a lot of drug smuggling that comes under the guise of a postage stamp, inserted or dried with the adhesive substance. But if it’s coming directly from a publisher, there’s less of a security risk.”

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Books and mailings with traditional postage or address labels coming from an individual, such as an inmate’s friend or family member, will continue to be blocked and not delivered, which jailers are legally allowed to do.

The jail and the county’s adult detention center both have libraries and inmates are allowed three to four soft-cover books at a time, Keller said.

The settlement states that the parties acknowledge that the agreement does not mean the county admits any liability.

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