Politics & Government

Kentucky prisons drop ban on inmate mail that ‘promotes homosexuality’

The Kentucky Department of Corrections has dropped a policy that allowed prison wardens to ban incoming mail for inmates if they thought the items would “promote homosexuality.”

Citing free speech and free press rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, the ACLU of Kentucky challenged the policy in March after it discovered that Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex — a medium-security prison in West Liberty — banned personal letters and magazines including Out and The Advocate because they mentioned homosexuality, even if they did not contain sexually explicit images.

Statewide, prison wardens were allowed to ban materials “which depict homosexuality, sadism, masochism, bestiality and sexual acts or nudity with children.” The ACLU objected to homosexuality being included on that list, and it noted that various state prisons “had their own institution-specific mail policies,” which was legally problematic, William Sharp, legal director of the Kentucky ACLU, said Tuesday.

In a statewide memo sent to prison staff last week, Corrections Commissioner Rodney Ballard issued a revised inmate mail policy that removes the specific reference to homosexuality.

From this point forward, all “sexually explicit materials,” defined as “pictorial depictions of nudity” or “actual or simulated sexual acts,” are prohibited, Ballard wrote. Previously, the Corrections Department did not ban all nude pictures in incoming mail, but only “pornography or sexually explicit material which poses a threat to the security, good order or discipline of the institution.”

Sharp said he was gratified the Corrections Department changed its approach.

“The outdated mail policies that prompted our investigation barred prisoners from receiving mail that ‘promotes homosexuality.’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,” Sharp said. “That type of viewpoint discrimination by the government is precisely what the First Amendment is designed to prevent.”

This was the right thing to do, Ballard said Tuesday.

“Once I learned of the policy and its antiquated wording, I took steps to have it corrected,” said Ballard said. “Current case law supports the wording in the new policy. This is how we will address any similar issue facing the department: If we find something that’s outdated and in need of revising, we’re going to address it in a deliberate and thoughtful way.”

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics

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