A federal judge in Chicago has ruled that a ban against inmates reading newspapers at the Cook County Jail violates the First Amendment, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Judge Matthew Kennelly said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has some legitimate concerns, including that inmates could roll newspapers up or use them to fashion papier mache weapons, or to fuel fires, or to learn about the activities of rival gangs. The judge said the no-exceptions ban goes too far and so violates inmates' rights.
The ruling notes the jail does permit books and even magazines. The newspaper ban has been in place for 30 years because jail administrators argue they pose unique problems. The judge said “permitting newspapers in libraries and day rooms, but not individual cells—would accommodate the right while completely addressing the jail's concerns.” He noted that the jail “could decide to purchase only national or international newspapers, which would be far less likely to contain information about the jail's inmates and local gang activity.” The judge ruled in a lawsuit brought by former inmate Gregory Koger, a member of the Ethical Humanist Society who was serving time in the jail in 2013 for “videotaping the remarks of a speaker who had cancelled a meeting with the group.” Koger sued after jail guards refused to let him have a copy of the Chicago Tribune that supporters had sent him.