Cook Co. Jail newspaper ban violates 1st Amendment: judge

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Detainees at Cook County Jail wait to be processed in 2014. Sun-Times file

A federal judge in Chicago has ruled that a ban against inmates reading newspapers at Cook County Jail violates the First Amendment.

Judge Matthew Kennelly’s written opinion says Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has some legitimate concerns, including that inmates could roll newspapers up or use them to fashion papier mache weapons, or to fuel fires, or to learn about the activities of rival gangs. But he said the no-exceptions ban goes too far and so violates inmates’ rights.

The 20-page ruling notes the jail does permit books and even magazines. The newspaper ban has been in place for 30 years because jail administrators argue they pose unique problems.

But Kennelly wrote:

..permitting newspapers in libraries and day rooms, but not individual cells—would accommodate the right while completely addressing the jail’s concerns. Restricting newspapers to these rooms would limit the amount of additional material entering the jail, thus addressing defendants’ waste disposal concerns. It would also enable the jail to control information that is likely to cause violence. The jail could decide to purchase only national or international newspapers, which would be far less likely to contain information about the jail’s inmates and local gang activity.

The ruling was posted Monday in a civil lawsuit brought by former inmate Gregory Koger, a member of the Ethical Humanist Society who was serving time in the jail in 2013 for “videotaping the remarks of a speaker who had cancelled a meeting with the group.”

Kroger sued after jail guards refused to let him have a copy of the Chicago Tribune that supporters had sent him. Kennelly awarded Kroger nominal damages of just $1 — not enough for a $1.50 copy of the Tribune, but sufficient for a copy of the Sun-Times.

Ruling in Cook County Jail newspaper case

Contributing: Associated Press

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