US prisons may ban porn magazines

Time of article published Jun 24, 1999

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James Vicini

Washington - The Unites States (US) Supreme Court allowed the federal government to ban prisoners from getting Playboy, Penthouse and other sexually explicit publications.

The high court rejected an appeal by three inmates, Playboy Enterprises Inc., the publisher of Penthouse magazine and a publishing trade organisation in a free-speech challenge to the ban.

The justices let stand a federal appeals court ruling that the US Bureau of Prisons may enforce legislation adopted by Congress in 1996 requiring wardens to stop the distribution of any material that is "sexually explicit or features nudity."

A federal judge initially ruled that the law on its face violated the First Amendment rights of the prisoners and barred its enforcement.

But the appeals court disagreed, concluding that the ban had a rational goal in seeking to rehabilitate prisoners.

In the appeal, attorneys for those challenging the ban said the appeals court was wrong.

They said the law bans the receipt of an entire category of speech despite the complete absence of any evidence that a flat ban was requested or needed by prison officials responsible for the security and rehabilitation of the inmates.

The attorneys said the appeals court failed to weigh the fundamental First Amendment right to receive expressive material against the strength of the government's asserted "amorphous and undefined" interest in prisoner rehabilitation.

Before Congress adopted the law, sexually explicit material ordinarily was allowed for inmates.

The Justice Department defended the appeals court ruling.

"This court has properly recognised that prisoners cannot claim the same breadth of constitutional rights as ordinary citizens," department attorneys told the Supreme Court. - Reuters

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