Berkeley County officials agreed to pay nearly $600,000 today to settle the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the Hill-Finklea Detention Center in Moncks Corner for turning away the monthly newsletter Prison Legal News.
Before the lawsuit, inmates could receive only religious literature and could purchase some publications from the commissary. The ACLU charged that the facility's policy violated inmates' constitutional rights.
Now, inmates also can receive books and magazines sent directly from bookstores or publishers. The jail still prohibits nude photos and anything with staples.
Sandy Senn, an attorney representing Berkeley County in the lawsuit, argued that inmates used staples from publications to damage the jail. She showed reporters in May some of the primitive instruments confiscated behind bars, including a toothbrush and a pen, each with a staple sticking out of the base for tattooing, and more sophisticated version with a small ink well.
David Fathi, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project in Washington, called the staple argument "an after-the-fact rationale" and noted that the jail never mentioned staples in its original reason for rejecting Prison Legal News. County officials hired four Charleston School of Law students and a University of South Carolina student to comb through more than 40,000 inmate files to show evidence that staples damaged the jail.
As part of today's settlement, jail officials agreed to remove staples from incoming publications. They will not accept bulk mail and will take their concerns to court if the volume of stapled publications becomes too high.
Jail officials also agreed to explain why they turned away certain publications to both the sender and the intended recipient. The court will maintain jurisdiction over the case for a year as part of the settlement.
The state's insurance reserve fund will foot the bill, which includes $100,000 for Prison Legal News and $499,000 in legal fees.