State sued over restrictions on mail that can be sent to prison inmates

Uniform of a Michigan Department of Corrections Officer. The Human Rights Defense Center is suing the department's director as well as four current and former wardens over its policy covering mail sent to inmates.
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LANSING, MI (WILX) A non-profit group is suing the head of the Michigan Department of Corrections as well as four current and former prison wardens.

The federal lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Michigan by the Human Rights Defense Center claims the defendants unconstitutionally censored issues of multiple publications including Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News.

The suit also claims the state is not following proper procedures when censoring or blocking delivery and fails to provide a process to challenge those decisions. The suit names the following people as defendants:


  • Heidi Washington, Director of the Michigan Dept. of Corrections

  • O'Bell Winn, Warden of the Saginaw Correctional Facility

  • Bonita Hoffner, former Warden of the Lakeland Correctional Facility

  • Willia Smith, former Warden of the Ionia Correctional Facility

  • Carmen Palmer, former Warden of the Michigan Reformatory

The Human Rights Defense Center claims state correctional facilities censored 36 issues of Prison Legal News between August of 2016 and July of 2019. It also claims books and the monthly newsletter mailed to inmates were blocked outright.

The suit asks the court to find that the defendants violated the U.S. Constitution, issue an injunction to stop further censoring or blocking of publications sent to inmates, and award damages plus attorney fees.

News 10 contacted Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz who said the department does not comment on pending litigation. He did include the department's policy directive covering prisoner mail. The document, which is attached to this story, details several reasons mail to inmates can be rejected. It also outlines the appeals process, something the Human Rights Defense Center claims the state is not following.

News 10 and wilx.com will keep you updated on this lawsuit.