Metro Weekly

Kentucky prisons no longer permitted to ban “gay mail”

New statewide policy follows investigation into mail censorship at Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex

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).

Inmates in Kentucky scored a victory after the state’s Commissioner of Corrections declared that the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex may not enforce a mail policy keeping them from receiving books, magazines or reading materials that “promote homosexuality.”

According to the ACLU, which wrote the commissioner about the enforcement of the policy in March, the medium-security prison in West Liberty, Ky., used the policy to confiscate inmates’ mail 13 different times over a four-month period in 2015.

The ACLU was first alerted to the policy by an internal memo obtained through the state’s Open Records Act. It allowed Warden Kathy Litteral to direct prison staff to confiscate any material that dealt with or referenced homosexuality in any way. The ban applied to personal letters, photographs — even those that were not sexually explicit — and gay-themed magazines or books. The ACLU argued that the ban violates prisoners’ First Amendment rights and that while prison officials are given some leeway in restricting inmates’ mail if they have safety concerns, they cannot restrict it because they disapprove of the content.

On Tuesday, Commissioner of Corrections Rodney Ballard  sent out a statewide memo implementing changes to regulations that governing prisoner mail, effectively prohibiting bans similar to the one in place at the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex.

“The outdated mail policies that prompted our investigation barred prisoners from receiving mail that ‘promotes homosexuality,’ but such policies single out pro-LGBT messages for unfavorable treatment,” William Sharp, the legal director of the ACLU of Kentucky, said in a statement. “And that type of viewpoint discrimination by the government is precisely what the First Amendment is designed to prevent.”

Ria Tabacco Mar, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s LGBT Project, celebrated the organization’s victory.

“Gay people are entitled to equal dignity, inside and outside of our nation’s prisons,” she said. “This policy change is a positive step forward for prisoners in Kentucky, and we appreciate the commissioner’s decision to timely address this problem.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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