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The Internet age-and all its legal complications-has finally come to prisons. When Danny Williams, a Georgia prisoner serving a life sentence for murder, wasn’t allowed to receive legal materials downloaded from the Internet in his mail, he filed a pro se suit challenging the ban. Brooke Savage, an associate in the Atlanta office of Holland & Knight, took over the suit in early 2004 shortly after joining the firm, which had been appointed by the court. Williams v. Donald, No. 5:01-CV-292-2 (M.D. Ga.). “It was something that just stood out as being contrary to the First Amendment, a complete and seemingly arbitrary ban on a prisoner’s mail solely because it is generated from the Internet,” she said. The Georgia Department of Corrections policy prohibits a prisoner from receiving mail from the Internet unless it is from the prisoner’s lawyer or the Web site’s publisher. Williams’ girlfriend at the time had sent the materials. Prisoners do not have access to the Internet. Cases about inmates’ rights in the digital world have focused on whether prisoners should be allowed to receive correspondence originating from the Internet. Prisoners’ advocates have said that receiving the material in the mail is a free speech right protected by the First Amendment. Opponents have brought up an array of safety and security concerns, such as the possibility that the materials could include contraband. In Williams’ case, state officials said that Internet printouts may increase the risk of inmates getting their hands on dangerous information, such as instructions on making a pipe bomb, according to court documents. Policies challenged There is no state or federal legislation regarding prisoners’ rights to accessing Web-based materials, but in recent years, some inmates have successfully challenged prison policies that banned the receipt of material from cyberspace. In 2004, the California Department of Corrections was barred from preventing inmates from receiving mail containing Internet-generated information. Clement v. California Department of Corrections, 364 F.3d 1148 (9th Cir.). The department referred calls to Pelican Bay State Prison, where the case originated. The prison’s spokesman, Lieutenant Ken Thomas, said the policy has been changed to allow for such materials as long as they don’t jeopardize the security of the institution. More recently, a Colorado district judge ruled in October against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, saying its policy was unconstitutional because it prohibited an inmate from getting printed materials in the mail. Jordan v. Hood, No. 03-cv-02320 (D. Colo.). In Williams’ case, a magistrate recommended in September that a Georgia prison policy be declared unconstitutional. Both sides have filed briefs and are awaiting a district judge’s ruling. Yolanda Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Corrections, said that the department’s policy against access to Internet materials originated from security concerns. “The policy stipulates that this is done in order to ensure departmental management security and to prohibit inappropriate use and access consistent with state and federal law,” Thompson said. Kevin Brown, a partner at Sell & Melton of Macon, Ga., who is representing the Georgia department’s commissioner and warden, declined to comment. Russ Willard, a spokesman for Georgia’s attorney general, would only reiterate the department’s policy about prohibited mail. But in court papers, the defense has said that the prison does not have a full ban on Internet mail because online materials are allowed if they come from the prisoner’s lawyer or the site’s publisher. Georgia officials contend that allowing Internet-generated mail will drastically increase mail volume, and that the materials could compromise prison security or include contraband. Savage said prison officials already screen mail to ensure that it does not pose a threat, so broad bans on Internet materials are not necessary. John Boston, director of the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the New York City Legal Aid Society, said prisons’ ban on online materials do not make sense. While a prisoner cannot receive a printed page from the Internet, he or she could receive the same article if it were re-typed. The director of the National Correctional Industries Association referred requests for comment to the American Correctional Association, an industry group. The ACA did not return repeated phone and e-mail requests. David Fathi, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, said some organizations have also tried to ban prisoners from posting information online. But after Arizona lost a case involving that issue, litigation has slowed down.

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