- Associated Press - Sunday, July 31, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas has banned inmates from receiving mailed newspaper clippings in what officials say is an attempt to restrict drug smuggling in its state prison system, but civil rights groups and journalists argue the new policy could violate the prisoners’ First Amendment rights and could be declared unconstitutional if challenged in court.

The Arkansas Department of Correction maintains the ban is necessary, especially since newsprint can be laced with drugs like LSD and it’s difficult to screen newsprint items for such substances, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported (https://bit.ly/2aIx2jQ ).

Department spokesman Solomon Graves didn’t specify which drugs were at issue but said in an email to the newspaper that the change was made because some facilities already had newsprint bans while others didn’t.

The new policy still allows inmates to receive articles and other newspaper clippings, such as classified ads and obituaries, but only if they are photocopied or printed on computer paper. Inmates are also still allowed to receive materials directly from a publisher.

Civil rights advocates say the ban goes too far and punishes inmates and their families who don’t have the means to afford copiers, printers or internet.

“The right to free speech isn’t just the right to say things. It’s the right to receive information,” said Holly Dickson, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Arkansas. “It also inhibits the right to interact with friends and family on the outside.”

The ban could also be declared unconstitutional if advocates who oppose the ban can prove that other states are able to run safe prisons while inmates still receive newsprint items, said John Tull, a legal counsel for the Arkansas Press Association.

“So many times the reflex on regulations is, ‘let’s just ban everything,’” Tull said.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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