Lawsuit claims Forrest Co. Jail censorship policies are unconstitutional

Updated: Oct. 24, 2018 at 4:19 PM CDT
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FORREST COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - A civil lawsuit filed by the Human Rights Defense Center claims inmates at the Forrest County Jail are being denied access to reading materials due to unconstitutional censorship policies.

The suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, names Forrest County, Sheriff Billy McGee and unnamed jail staff as defendants.

The HRDC is a non-profit organization that provides inmates across the country with information about their legal and civil rights and ways to access education while behind bars.

The lawsuit claims most books and publications are banned under Forrest County Jail policies, and inmates are only allowed to read “the Bible and sometimes other Christian publications.”

In court documents, HRDC claims its publications and other materials mailed to inmates housed at the jail are being illegally banned in violation of the Free Speech Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The suit identifies at least 77 items of mail sent to inmates at the Forrest County Jail that were returned to HRDC because they were not allowed under jail policies.

HRDC also claims those policies violate the Fourteenth Amendment by denying the organization a chance to challenge the censorship of its materials.

According to court documents, HRDC claims the jail’s censorship polices impede the organization’s ability to spread its message and perform its mission and could lead to loss of customers and future subscribers.

You can read the full legal complaint here.

HRDC is requesting the case be sent to a jury for trial. It’s also requesting a court order to change jail policies and compensatory damages proved at trial.

David Miller, attorney for the Forrest County Board of Supervisors, said the lawsuit has been referred to the county’s insurer, the Mississippi Association of Supervisors Insurance Trust.

The representative with the Forrest County Sheriff’s Office said the department cannot comment on pending litigation.

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