Confiscated guitar leaves inmate with jailhouse blues

An inmate will not be reunited with a guitar he was allowed to purchase in prison after the Indiana Court of Appeals entered judgment for the Department of Correction on Wednesday in a memorandum decision.

John Newsome is incarcerated at the Indiana State Prison, serving a 66-year sentence. At some point, Newsome was permitted to purchase a guitar and accessories to keep in his cell.

However, in April 2016, the DOC enacted Offender Personal Property Policy No. 02-01-101, which provided, in part, that musical instruments would longer be approved to be kept within individual cells.

Under the policy, instruments could be donated for recreational use or for use in the chapel choir. Otherwise, they would be removed. 

The DOC confiscated Newsome’s guitar almost one year later pursuant to the policy. He had the option of donating the guitar and accessories or shipping them to another location.

Newsome filed informal, formal and tort claims, all of which were denied by the DOC. In September 2017, Newsome filed a small claims complaint regarding the seizure of the guitar and accessories seeking the “reimbursement of monies spent or the return of property.” He also filed for summary judgment, which the LaPorte Superior Court denied.

Newsome argued that the small claims court erred by entering judgment for the DOC. But the appellate court found that Newsome failed to prove that the guitar and accessories were wrongfully taken or unlawfully detained given the DOC’s statutory authority and policy regarding musical instruments.

The appellate court also cited the smalls claims court when it explained that although Newsome had lost the use of his guitar in his cell while incarcerated, he still owns the property that was confiscated.“The DOC created a policy that made musical instruments prohibited property, and there is no argument that the policy is improper,” Senior Judge Michael Barnes wrote for the court in John Newsome v. Robert E. Carter, Jr., Indiana Department of Correction, Officer Stephenson, and Indiana State Prison (mem. dec.),18A-SC-275.

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