Conn. prison can censor Hells Angels mail

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Connecticut prison officials can censor the mail of an inmate who is a member of the World Hells Angels Motorcycle Club without violating the First Amendment, a federal judge has ruled.

Daniel Klimas is serving his sentence at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield for murdering a prospective gang member who was a confidential informant for the police. Since his incarceration, Klimas has received and sent mail containing Hells Angels insignia and code words, including the group’s Big House Chapter Update, which contains information about incarcerated members worldwide.

The Connecticut Department of Corrections has designated the Hells Angels as an outlaw motorcycle gang that presents a threat to institutional security. Officials at MacDougall-Walker refused to deliver some of Klimas’ mail, citing an administrative directive allowing prison officials to confiscate mail that poses a security threat or contains material written in code.

Klimas filed a federal lawsuit, contending that the censorship of his mail violated his First Amendment free-speech rights. He claimed the officials’ actions constituted an “exaggerated response” to prison security.

However, Senior U.S. District Judge Warren W. Eginton rejected Klimas’ lawsuit in his August 21 opinion in Klimas v. Lantz. The judge applied the test developed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Turner v. Safley (1987), which provides that a prison regulation affecting an inmate’s constitutional rights is constitutional as long as the policy is reasonably related to legitimate penological concerns – such as safety or rehabilitation.

Prison officials said they seized some of Klimas’ mail because it used coded words and exhibited other references to the Hells Angels. They submitted affidavits from four prison officials who said inmate correspondence that contains gang references must be limited in order to ensure prison safety.

Judge Eginton wrote that “defendants have shown that materials bearing HAMC indicia or code have been deemed to constitute threats to the safety or security of staff, other inmates, public facility order, discipline or rehabilitation.” He concluded that the prison officials had shown their censorship of Klimas’ mail was “rationally connected to a legitimate government interest to prevent increased violence or criminal activity.”

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