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Mecklenburg prisoners can't read this magazine. A federal lawsuit aims to change that.

The Human Rights Defense Center filed a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Irwin Carmichael and Mecklenburg County sheriff's officials to allow for prisoners at the jail to read the magazine "Prison Legal News."
The Human Rights Defense Center filed a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Irwin Carmichael and Mecklenburg County sheriff's officials to allow for prisoners at the jail to read the magazine "Prison Legal News." Observer File Art

Prisoners at the Mecklenburg County jail are banned from reading a national magazine that covers prison news. Now the organization behind the magazine is fighting to get the publication in the hands of inmates.

The Human Rights Defense Center filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Sheriff Irwin Carmichael and other Mecklenburg County Sheriff's officials. The nonprofit argues the jail's censorship of its magazine, "Prison Legal News," violates the First Amendment.

Carmichael couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday, and a spokeswoman with the sheriff's office said the office can't comment on existing or pending litigation matters.

"Prison Legal News," and other publications from the Human Rights Defense Center, features reporting on prisons, jails, and issues related to criminal justice.

The magazine is on a list of banned publications, which can be found on the jail's website. Certain publications are banned because of inappropriate content, according to the site, which does not indicate why specific publications are deemed inappropriate. The magazine hasn't been allowed in the prison since May 2016, a defense center spokesperson said.

Other banned materials on the list include publications that promote violence or racial hatred, and erotic material such as "Fifty Shades of Grey."

"We see no justifiable reason in why our publication should be censored at this county jail, other than the fact they just don't like what we say," said Alex Friedmann, associate director of the defense center and managing editor of the magazine.

The defense center has won several cases against state correctional facilities and county jails across the country on censorship issues, Friedmann said. The organization currently has litigation against correctional facilities in states including Florida and Illinois, he said.

"We take our First Amendment rights and the First Amendment rights of our readers very seriously," he said.

In addition to a First Amendment violation, the defense center also argues the jail didn't provide meaningful notice of the ban, depriving the organization of the opportunity to appeal or challenge it. The action violated the organization's right to due process, the lawsuit states.

The organization is seeking a federal injunction to allow prisoners to read "Prison Legal News" and its other publications throughout the duration of the case.

In addition to Carmichael, the lawsuit names other officials, including Telisa White and David Hill, who are both majors with the sheriff's office. Captains Jeff Eason and Aujiena Hicks are also identified in the lawsuit.

LaVendrick Smith: 704-358-5101; @LaVendrickS

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