The ruling favors prisoners who want newspapers.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Inmates have been known to use newspapers or magazines to hide contraband, as weapons and to fuel fires, but that's not enough reason to ban them from prison, a federal appeals panel ruled Friday.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a ban on newspapers, magazines and photographs at a disciplinary unit at the State Correctional Institution-Pittsburgh "cannot be supported as a matter of law."
The court reinstated an inmate's lawsuit that had been dismissed by a lower court -- and issued an opinion that will likely mean the prisoner will prevail.
The ruling was released late Friday; it was not immediately clear whether the state would appeal. Efforts to reach the lawyer who argued the case for the state were not immediately successful.
Similar items were exempted
The inmate had argued the policy in a unit housing inmates with a history of disruptive or violent behavior violated his free-speech rights.
Department of Corrections officials countered that the ban served as an incentive for inmates in the unit to behave better, and said it was necessary to prevent the publications from being turned into weapons. Removing the ban, they said, would force authorities to monitor inmates more carefully.
But the court said inmates had access to many things similar to the banned publications and photos: writing paper, envelopes, library books, a copy of the prison handbook and religious publications are all exempt.
"We fail to see ... how an inmate's hour-long possession of Graterfriends [a prison newsletter] would require further monitoring when at any time that inmate may be in possession of 10 sheets of writing paper, and as many copies of the Watchtower, the Jewish Daily Forward, and the Christian Science Monitor Magazine as can fit in a records center box," the court wrote.