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Circuit Court upholds ban on pen-pal solicitation by inmates

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The First Amendment rights of Indiana inmates aren’t being violated by a ban instituted by the Department of Correction on advertising for pen-pals and receiving materials from resources that allow people to advertise for pen-pals, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held Tuesday.

Inmates Dana Woods and Ernest Tope filed the class-action suit against the DOC after an internal investigation into financial fraud and pen-pals led the DOC to limit the source of trust account funds to inmates’ family members and other authorized individuals. The DOC also prohibited inmates from soliciting or commercially advertising for money and goods or services, which includes a ban on advertising for pen-pals.

The inmates challenged the constitutionality of the ban on advertising for pen-pals, in which Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson in the U.S. District Court’s Southern District of Indiana granted summary judgment to the DOC.

Using the four factors outlined in Turner v. Safely, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987), which discussed when regulations impinging on inmates’ constitutional rights are valid, the 7th Circuit upheld the ban. Under Turner, there must be a “valid, rational connection” between the regulation and the objective set forth to justify it; the inmates need to have an alternative means of exercising the restricted right; the impact of accommodating the asserted right on prison staff, other inmates, and prison resources generally must be considered; and the regulation must not be an “exaggerated response” that ignores an alternative which would accommodate the inmates’ First Amendment rights at a modest cost to legitimate penological interests.

In this case, Dana Woods, et al. v. Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Corrections, No. 10-3339, the inmates were unable to disprove the validity of the regulation on any of the four factors.

“We close by noting that constitutional rights are not eradicated by one’s incarceration; the liberties enjoyed by the citizenry at large remain available to incarcerated individuals except to the extent that the exercise of such liberties is at odds with the objectives and administration of an effective prison system. Using pen-pal websites to engage in fraud is antithetical to the rehabilitative goals of confinement,” wrote Judge William Bauer. “Here, the IDOC reasonably perceived that continuing to allow inmates to use the sites would passively enable fraud. The regulation enacted to prevent it squarely addressed the threat and is therefore constitutional.”

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  1. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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