Jail superintendent open to lawsuit settlement

The superintendent of the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center in Winchester said Monday he is open to allowing inmates to receive a publication that is the subject of a censorship lawsuit filed in federal court in Harrisonburg.

James F. Whitley said he hadn’t seen the suit in its entirety until Monday when he was served with a summons from Prison Legal News, a Florida-based publication.

Whitley didn’t contest assertions by Jeffrey E. Fogel of Charlottesville, the plaintiff’s attorney, that Prison Legal News had been banned from the detention center, along with all other publications received by mail.

The lawsuit accuses the jail, the jail authority, Whitley, Capt. Clay Corbin and 10 unnamed jail employees of unconstitutional censorship of Prison Legal News and several associated publications focused on inmates’ legal rights.

Whitley said he had never heard of Prison Legal News until recently, nor had he been aware that anyone in the jail was attempting to receive it through the mail.

“There was no intent on our part to keep this from anybody,” Whitley said of Prison Legal News. “They just tried to send it to us, and it wouldn’t stay. I am sure we’ll find a reasonable solution.”

The suit states that Prison Legal News attempted to deliver 170 copies by mail to the detention center from October 2014 through July. Copies of several other related publications were also returned around the same period, the suit states.

Whitley said inmates still have access to the jail’s law library, and the ban on mailed publications was not aimed at any specific type of publication. The ban was imposed after jail authorities noticed “a lot of problems with contraband” being smuggled into the jail, “so we stopped accepting any publications through the mail,” Whitley said.

“Essentially people would disguise these documents as coming from the publisher,” Whitley added. “They would place them in a sealed bag with a typewritten address label.”

Whitley said he was also concerned with inmates accumulating too much personal property in the limited amount of storage space in the jail.

Magazines such as Time and People are available to jail inmates and distributed under the supervision of jail officials.

Whitley said he intended to have the jail’s attorneys speak to attorneys from Prison Legal News in the hopes of avoiding further litigation. He said exceptions to the ban on mail delivered publications can be made at his discretion.

“We’re going to try to take care of this in the most amenable way possible,” Whitley said of the lawsuit.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com