9th Circuit rejects inmate’s challenge to typewriter ban

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Nevada Department of Corrections did not violate the First Amendment rights of an inmate when it instituted a typewriter ban, a federal appeals court panel ruled yesterday.

Inmate William Lyons had argued that the ban violated his freedom of speech and religion guaranteed by both the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Lyons said the policy barring inmates from possessing typewriters prevented him from engaging in various forms of expression, including writing about religious matters.

A federal district court rejected his constitutional and statutory claims. Lyons then appealed that decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which unanimously affirmed the lower court in yesterday’s ruling in Lyons v. Skolknik.

A three-judge panel determined that Nevada’s ban was reasonably related to legitimate prison safety concerns under the U.S. Supreme Court standard for prisoner rights in Turner v. Safley (1987).

The appeals court panel relied on its 2011 decision in Nevada Department of Corrections v. Greene in which it explained: “The undisputed evidence shows that the ban was enacted after the murder of an inmate with a weapon fashioned from the roller pin of a typewriter. No rational finder of fact could determine that the ban on typewriters does not reasonably advance the legitimate correctional goal of institutional safety.”

In the Greene decision, the 9th Circuit described the 2006 incident in which one inmate killed another using a roller pin. The killing spurred Nevada prison officials to institute the typewriter ban. The May 2007 policy applies to all correctional facilities under the control of the Nevada Department of Corrections.

The panel in Lyons’ case also summarily rejected his claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which provides that prison officials cannot substantially burden an inmate’s religious-liberty rights unless they have a compelling reason to do so. The panel determined that Lyons failed to show how the typewriter ban constituted a “substantial burden” on his religious-liberty rights.

Tags: , , , ,