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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. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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