by Sam Levin
Missouri inmates have a right to get married behind bars -- and they also have a right to receive newspapers. So says the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, which has a record of advocating for the incarcerated and has announced a settlement in a recent dispute regarding newspaper subscriptions in prison.
As we reported back in January, the ACLU alleged in a lawsuit that the Ste. Genevieve sheriff's office cut off newspaper delivery to inmates after one of them, Stanley Schell, wrote a letter to the editor to the Ste. Genevieve Herald. Schell was excited when the paper published his letter -- but was a lot less pleased when he reportedly stopped receiving the newspaper the following week.
That prompted the civil-rights group to intervene -- and now, months later, as part of a settlement, detainees will once again be able to receive newspapers, the ACLU says.
See also: - Marriage Behind Bars: Judge Rules Missouri Can't Block Inmates From Tying Knot - ACLU: St. Genevieve Cut Off Newspapers to Inmates After One Wrote Letter to Editor - Street Musicians, ACLU Sue St. Louis Over Permit Law Requiring Fees, Auditions
"We are pleased that we were able to get newspapers back into the Ste. Genevieve County jail," Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU-EM, says in a statement. "It is a significant victory for detainees that jail policy will now provide both senders and recipients of censored material notice and the opportunity to challenge jail censorship decisions."
The settlement means that the two parties have dismissed the lawsuit, which alleged that the jail was violating the First Amendment and due process rights of the inmate by blocking access to the papers.
As part of the agreement, the ACLU says that Ste. Genevieve County has adopted new jail policies regarding subscriptions and other written material mailed to inmates.
The ACLU alleged in the suit that the inmate had a prepaid subscription and that when he asked about the missing papers, the sheriff's office told him that it was no longer allowing local newspapers into the jail.
A sergeant, the suit said, told him:
The Sheriff has determined no local papers are allowed due to the fact that they publish local arrestees & their charges. This poses a security risk to inmates & our facility & are therefore no longer allowed.
We left a message with the sheriff's office this morning and will update if we hear back.
In the meantime, here's Schell's original letter to the editor that apparently sparked the whole debate, followed by the initial complaint.
Every Wednesday at "mail call," I look forward to receiving my copy of the Ste. Genevieve Herald. Although I am not from this area, I enjoy the "hometown" news, the political disputes, "where are the donations for the siren pole?" and even photos of Sheriff Gary Stolzer's latest toy, the SafeBoat.
Then, I turn to the second section to review the vast listings in the Church Services Directory. Ste. Genevieve has several Baptist churches, plus Lutheran, Presbyterians, nondenominational Christian churches, plus the Church of Ste. Genevieve Catholic, with a long history in the community. I read about the 20 other churches in the general area, and I ask myself, "Where are you?"
Here sits 140-plus sinners in need of spiritual guidance. Where are you? More than 30 pastors and zero regularly visiting the Ste. Genevieve County Detention Center? Did the local ministers miss where Jesus said, "I was in prison and you visited me"?
How hard can it be to walk through the jail once a week offering encouragement and prayers? Pastors, priests, deacons, elders, sisters and brothers -- where are you?
Stan Schell, Ste. Genevieve County Detention Center