ACLU challenges Jasper County jail newspaper ban

Friday, June 22, 2012 | 6:46 p.m. CDT

CARTHAGE — The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging a ban on all newspapers at the Jasper County jail, contending the prohibition violates the inmates' constitutional rights.

The organization raised its objections in a letter to Bill Fleischaker, attorney for Sheriff Archie Dunn, The Joplin Globe reported Friday.

Fleischaker said the ban was imposed because some newspaper articles, such as those concerning criminal cases, can sometimes spark fights between inmates. He also said jail officials don't want inmates reading about repairs planned for the jail.

Fleischaker said he plans to review issues raised by the letter with jail officials "and see if there is an accommodation that can be made."

The ban, which applies to all newspapers, is "draconian," said Doug Bonney, chief counsel and legal director for the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri.

"We don't know of any other jail in Missouri that bans all newspapers; they don't do that in the prisons," Bonney said. "And not all the newspapers are going to have local news about individual cases."

"Anywhere that a total ban has been litigated, it has been found unconstitutional," Bonney said.

He suggested jail officials could clip out and censor news articles that pose a true danger to jail security.

That would be too much of a drain on jail resources, said Fleischaker and sheriff's Capt. Becky Stevens, who supervises the jail.

Stevens said the jail tried clipping newspapers a few years ago and it caused grievances because inmates didn't know what had been clipped out.

The ban was imposed last year when there was extensive coverage of plans for repairs at the jail, Stevens said. It applies to all newspapers, but most subscriptions were for The Joplin Globe and Carthage Press.

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