Judge: No typewriters for prisoners
August 28, 2008
A ban on personal typewriters for Nevada prison inmates, who have used them for decades to prepare appeals of their sentences, has been upheld by a federal court judge.
U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks of Reno ruled that the state Department of Corrections ban on typewriters for inmates was constitutional and didn’t block inmates from access to the courts.
“The ban on typewriters occurred because prison officials determined that possession of typewriters aid the ability of inmates to breach safety and security,” Hicks said in his ruling Wednesday, adding, “It cannot be disputed that the state has a legitimate interest in maintaining security and order in its prisons.”
Prison officials confiscated hundreds of portable typewriters, starting at the maximum-security Ely State Prison in March 2007 and then extending the ban to other state prisons. They cited two incidents of violence in changing the policy ” one when an inmate died and another when a guard was threatened.
Inmates filed numerous lawsuits protesting the new rule, saying officials were using the security argument as an excuse to try to slow their legal complaints about overcrowded prisons and difficult living conditions.
The inmates were supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which said typewriters are vital for convicts who represent themselves in appealing their sentences.
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The state attorney general’s office asked the federal court to make clear the department was within its legal rights in confiscating typewriters that can be taken apart to make weapons that can be used to stab or club people.
Hicks’ ruling was praised Thursday by Deputy Attorney General Alicia Lerud, who said the judge concluded “safety and security are of primary importance” in Nevada prisons. Lerud has said more than a dozen actions had been filed by inmates in federal and state courts over the typewriter issue.
Incidents that triggered the typewriter ban included the December 2006 death of inmate Anthony Beltran, hit by another inmate with a roller pin taken from a typewriter; and a March 2007 attempt by an inmate to stab a guard with a part from another typewriter.