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Groups sue over banned legal handbook at Virginia prisons

Anita Kumar

Two civil rights groups have sued the Virginia Department of Corrections for banning a handbook from state prisons that explains the court system, methods for legal research and constitutional rights.

The Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild filed suit Wednesday morning in the Western District of Virginia, claiming that the state violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

"Virginia prisons are banning a document that explains to prisoners how they can exercise their constitutional rights to protect themselves from physical abuse, poor conditions and other mistreatment,'' center attorney Rachel Meeropol said. "If it is dangerous to educate people about the Constitution, there are a lot of law schools who are going to be in trouble."

The groups began offering the Jailhouse Lawyer's Handbook in 2003 and now provides several thousand copies each year to inmates looking to learn about their legal options, including how to file a lawsuit in federal court to challenge abuse by guards or unsafe conditions.

Attorneys for two organizations say the handbook contains no material that might cause legitimate security concerns, even though the Department of Corrections has told them it constitutes "material whose content could be detrimental to the security, good order, discipline of the facility, or offender rehabilitative efforts or the safety or health of offenders, staff, or others."

They also say the Department of Corrections failed to notify them that their handbook was being banned and failed to give them the opportunity to be heard as is required by law.

Update, 3:20 p.m. Officials at the Department of Corrections and the Attorney General's Office declined to comment.

By Anita Kumar  |  July 21, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar  
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The land time forgot.

Posted by: jckdoors | July 21, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

republican run VA Dept of Corrections ignores the law?? Who could have guessed?

Posted by: hohandy1 | July 21, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

God forbid prisoners become aware of their rights under the Constitution.

Posted by: UnknownHenson | July 21, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

They could legally restrict access to the book. Like making available only to prisoners who had first used the existing prison remediation process that included either/or the warden and chaplin. Once the existing processes are exhausted then a book about using the external courts might be helpful, if the inmate is still breathing.

Posted by: blasmaic | July 21, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

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