Berkeley County jail settles dispute over inmate mail

BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (AP/WCSC) - The Berkeley County jail has settled federal accusations it violated inmates' rights by depriving them of certain reading materials.

Court documents obtained by The Associated Press show the American Civil Liberties Union, federal prosecutors and Berkeley County jail officials signed a settlement agreement Tuesday.

According to officials, Berkeley County will pay nearly $600,000 to settle the lawsuit.

"We ended up paying 100 dollars shy of the insurance policy limits for the state. We did so not only because of the huge time drain because once they agreed to accept a monetary figure within the policy limits then the Berkeley county tax payers to a potentially unlimited amount," said Sandy Senn Berkley County Attorney.

The ACLU sued the Hill Finklea Detention Center, saying officials were violating inmates' civil rights by refusing to deliver the Prison Legal News magazine to inmates.

Under the agreement, inmates will be able to receive that and other publications including religious texts.

Jail officials said the magazine's staples posed a security risk and told publishers the only book inmates were allowed to have was a soft-back Bible. Other religious texts have subsequently been allowed, and a library has also been made available.

In addition, jail officials say bulk mail will not be accepted and would take concerns to court if the number of publications with staples increase too much.

That Prison Legal News also says they plan to file six more suits against jails in South Carolina, according to Berkeley County attorney Sandra Senn.

"The rights to practice one's faith and to be informed about matters of public interest are among our most cherished freedoms," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Department of Justice is committed to vigorously enforcing the First Amendment and RLUIPA to ensure that freedom of expression and religious liberty remain protected. Not only will this agreement uphold the Constitution, it will also promote the safety, security and good order of BCDC; assist in rehabilitating detainees; and ensure that the people of Berkeley County have confidence in the criminal justice system."

"The rights guaranteed by the Constitution extend to all people in the United States," said William N. Nettles, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina. "By protecting those rights – even for the incarcerated – we strengthen those rights for all."

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