Metro Weekly

Kentucky prison’s “gay mail” ban being challenged

ACLU: Ban on mail or literature "promoting homosexuality" violates inmates' First Amendment rights

Exterior and interior shots of the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex (Photo: Kentucky Department of Corrections).
Exterior and interior shots of the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex (Photo: Kentucky Department of Corrections).

Legal advocates are challenging a Kentucky prison for adopting and enforcing a ban on books, magazines, letters and other mail that the warden alleges “promote homosexuality.” After all, as author Pete Hautman once said, “Books are dangerous…they contain ideas.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kentucky is criticizing the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex, a medium-security facility in West Liberty, Ky., for prohibiting inmates from receiving materials by mail that are related to or reference homosexuality in some way, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader. The ban applies to personal letters, photographs — even those that are not sexually explicit — and gay-themed magazines or books that deal with issues related to the LGBT community.

The ACLU found out about the ongoing ban through an internal policy memo that the organization obtained through the state’s Open Records Act. The ACLU wrote a letter to Warden Kathy Litteral warning her that the policy, as implemented, violates inmates’ First Amendment rights. While prison officials are given some leeway in restricting inmates’ mail if they have safety concerns, they cannot restrict it just because officials personally disagree with the content of such materials.

“Kentucky prisoners cannot constitutionally be denied the right to receive mail just because the content relates to gay people or issues of interest to gay people, or may be construed as ‘promoting homosexuality,'” William Sharp, the ACLU of Kentucky’s legal director wrote in the letter to Litteral. “Doing so singles out particular individuals for unequal treatment on the basis of their sexual orientation, thus denying them the fundamental right to receive information protected by the First Amendment.”

The ACLU has asked for prison officials to respond within 14 days, or it will pursue other options to stop the ban from being enforced. So far, the ACLU says it is not aware of any other prisons with a similar policy. However, there is a statewide policy for all Kentucky prisons, part of which restricts the types of pornography available to inmates. In that policy, pornography depicting homosexuality is lumped in a class of materials that can be rejected, along with “sadism, masochism, bestiality and sexual acts or nudity with children.”

The newly appointed commissioner of the state Department of Corrections, Rodney Ballard, was apparently unaware of the policy, but has said he will investigate it. A spokeswoman for the department told the Herald-Leader that the department would undertake a review of the policies in place at all state prisons.

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