Inmate loses First Amendment claim over ban of The Pill Book

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

An Illinois state prisoner did not have a First Amendment right to receive The Pill Book even though he claimed he needed it for health reasons, a federal judge has ruled.

Chester O’Quinn, serving a 70-year sentence for murder at Menard Correctional Center in Chester, Ill., ordered The Pill Book in June 2010. When the book arrived, a review committee determined that it was on a banned-book list. The book, by Dr. Harold Silverman, is an “Illustrated guide to the most-prescribed drugs in the United States.”

O’Quinn filed a grievance in July 2010 but received no response. He wrote to the warden and the administrative review board of the Illinois Department of Corrections, again receiving no reply.

He then filed a federal lawsuit, contending that the book should be removed from the banned-book list and delivered to him. He said he needed it for health reasons that were not explained in the court’s opinion.

On Aug. 7 U.S. District Judge G. Patrick Murphy issued a memorandum and order in O’Quinn v. Rednour, dismissing O’Quinn’s lawsuit. He evaluated the First Amendment claim under the U.S. Supreme Court’s standard articulated in Turner v. Safley (1987). Under this standard, a prison regulation does not violate an inmate’s constitutional rights if the regulation is rationally related to legitimate penological interests, such as safety or rehabilitation.

Murphy cited the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent decision in Munson v. Gaetz, in which the appeals court rejected the First Amendment claims of another Menard inmate who wanted to receive the Physicians’ Desk Reference and the Complete Guide to Prescription & Nonprescription Drugs 2009. In its decision, the 7th Circuit found that prison officials had a legitimate reason to prevent inmates from obtaining books about drugs.

“There is a legitimate purpose in restricting prisoners from owning books containing drug-related information, even for health purposes,” Murphy concluded. “Menard’s decision to restrict [O’Quinn] from owning The Pill Book is a reasonable means of accomplishing a Government objective. Plaintiff cannot show a violation of his First Amendment rights.”

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