Inmate’s friend can sue over Va. prisons’ CD policy

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Louisiana man who sued the Virginia Department of Corrections over a policy prohibiting him from sending his incarcerated friend a CD can continue with his lawsuit, a federal judge has ruled.

Owen N. North wanted to send to friend Shawn Goode a compact disc, “Dylan Thomas: The Caedmon Collection.” The CD featured Thomas reading his poetry and that of William Shakespeare and others.

The problem was that Goode is imprisoned at Nottoway Correctional Center in Burkeville. The Virginia Department of Corrections policy prohibits inmates from receiving or purchasing non-music compact discs unless they are religious in nature and include no music.

When North attempted to mail the CD to Goode, he was told that Goode could not receive it unless a publisher had sent it. Nor was Goode allowed to buy it himself using money that North had placed in Goode’s account.

North filed a lawsuit in federal court, contending that the prison rules on CDs violate the First Amendment. North also alleged that the VDOC violates the First Amendment by favoring religious CDs over non-religious CDs. The prison countered that North did not have legal standing to contest the policy.

U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer ruled Aug. 1 in favor of North and refused to dismiss the lawsuit.

“The Supreme Court has recognized a non-inmate’s First Amendment interest in communicating [with] prison inmates,” Spencer wrote in North v. Clarke. “Therefore, the First Amendment protects North’s right to communicate with Goode, which extends to his ability to give Goode ‘The Caedmon Collection.’”

Prison officials argued that the VDOC policy doesn’t violate the First Amendment because it only prohibits the information in a particular form — compact disc. Spencer rejected that argument, writing that “a person can suffer First Amendment injury when the government restricts only a certain form of his communication.”

Spencer also refused to dismiss the claim that the VDOC violated the First Amendment by favoring religious over non-religious CD content.

The state attorney general’s office, which represented the VDOC, did not respond to a request for comment in time for this story.

Previous: Man sues Va. prisons for denying literary CDs

Tags: , ,