A federal judge struck down a 30-year ban on reading the newspaper in one of the largest jails in the country, ruling that the ban violates inmates’ First Amendment rights.
Chicago’s Cook County Jail has prohibited newspapers since 1984, claiming they could be made into paper mâché weapons, used to clog toilets, or put to various other hypothetical nefarious purposes.
Judge Matthew Kennelly of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District ruled this reasoning inconsistent, since by that standard, the jail would also have to ban a host of other materials—envelopes, cards, letters, photos, etc.
“All of this material can, like newspapers, be used to start fires, clog toilets, or make weapons,” he wrote. “On this record, no reasonable fact finder could find that lifting the ban on newspapers would have more than a de minimis impact on the number of fires, clogged toilets, or paper mâché weapons in the jail.”
Kennelly argued that, whatever concerns there may be, a total ban is “an exaggerated and therefore unreasonable response,” which "extinguishes an inmate's ability to exercise his First Amendment right to read newspapers."
In response to fears that local papers might incite violence by revealing information about local gang activity or the charges brought against other prisoners, Kennelly suggested that that jail could simply review incoming issues for problematic content—since they already do, in fact, review inmate mail. He also proposed allowing newspapers only in the jail library.
The case was brought by a former inmate, Gregory Koger, who was denied access to the Chicago Tribune issue a friend mailed to him, according to Reason.