The ACLU of Kentucky is challenging the censorship of books, magazines, letters and pictures sent to inmates at one state prison because the warden believes they “promote homosexuality.”
Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex, a medium-security prison for 1,706 men in West Liberty, searches inmates’ incoming mail for “contraband,” according to an internal policy memo the ACLU obtained through the Open Records Act. The prison bans items that “promote homosexuality” just as it does gang-related materials and unsanitary items, according to the policy.
“EKCC has invoked this provision at least 13 times since August 2015 to reject mail sent to prisoners,” William Sharp, the state ACLU’s legal director, wrote to warden Kathy Litteral last week. “Such mail items included personal letters and photographs not marked as sexually explicit, as well as periodicals such as Out magazine and The Advocate, which contain articles about popular culture and politics of interest to the LGBT community.”
Inmates have federal and state constitutional rights to freedom of speech, Sharp wrote. Prison officials can restrict inmate mail if they are legitimately concerned about safety, but that is not a valid argument for withholding items that mention homosexuality, he wrote.
“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,’” Sharp wrote. “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.”
ACLU spokeswoman Amber Duke, in Louisville, declined to say how the civil rights group initially learned about the policy at Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex. The group is not aware of other prisons in Kentucky with a similar policy, Duke said.
There is a separate policy, effective for all Kentucky state prisons, setting parameters for the kinds of pornography that inmates can receive. Materials “that may justify rejection include those which depict homosexuality, sadism, masochism, bestiality and sexual acts or nudity with children,” according to that policy.
The state’s newly appointed corrections commissioner, Rodney Ballard, said Monday that he was not familiar with the policy at Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex being challenged by the ACLU, but he said he would look into it.
“We are going to review all of the policies, both institutionally and system-wide,” said Lisa Lamb, a spokeswoman for the state Corrections Department, on Tuesday.
In its letter, the ACLU asked for a response within 14 days. After that, the group “will then explore alternative options to address this issue,” Sharp said.
Last summer, the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice was threatened with a lawsuit for allegedly being too sympathetic to the rights of gay inmates.
Liberty Counsel, a religious advocacy group, threatened to sue the department unless it repealed a policy that prohibits anti-gay comments to youths held in detention. Liberty Counsel said the policy violates the free speech of volunteers who want to counsel inmates about the dangers of homosexuality as taught in the Bible.
The Department of Juvenile Justice hopes to “foster an open and inclusive culture,” Commissioner Bob Hayter wrote in a reply to Liberty Counsel that rejected the group’s demand. “The department’s regulation is neutral as to religion and requires respectful language toward youth by all staff, contractors and volunteers.”