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Law barring sexually oriented material from jail enjoined

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NEW JERSEY--Imprisoned sex offenders may continue to receive and possess sexually oriented material, a federal district judge in Newark decided…

NEW JERSEY–Imprisoned sex offenders may continue to receive and possess sexually oriented material, a federal district judge in Newark decided in late July, placing a permanent injunction on a law that he called “ill-conceived and ill-considered.”

“We as a community imprison offenders for our protection,” U.S. District Judge Alfred M. Wolin wrote. “Proscription on thoughts and ideas, however, falls outside that protective cloak, a concept not lost on the framers of the Constitution. The right to freedom of expression transcends prison walls.”

In his opinion, Wolin said that history teaches “when society stands idly by as the state violates the rights of one segment of the body politic, the rights of others will eventually be diminished.”

The law would have prohibited the inmates at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center at Avenel who are deemed to be repetitive and compulsive sex offenders from having access to a wide range of printed literature that might contain “any description, narrative account, display or depiction of sexual activity.” The state argued that the law was aimed at publications like Playboy magazine, which it said interferes with offenders’ treatment.

Two Avenel inmates, Michael Curtis and Richard Waterman, challenged the law’s constitutionality in early 1998. They argued that the law was so vague that prison administrators could use it to ban materials from the Bible to a newspaper with underwear advertisements and articles about sex scandals and Viagra.

Both the state Senate and Assembly overwhelmingly passed the bill in January 1998, which was introduced after a legislative task force toured Avenel and found that inmates possessed magazines and pictures with sexual content.

Wolin placed a freeze on the law on June 1, the day it was to take effect. When the state said it had no new evidence to introduce at a pre-trial hearing in early July, the court decided to announce a final ruling based on the initial arguments without a trial.

Attorney General Peter Verniero said that he would appeal the decision. (Waterman v. Verniero; Prisoners’ Counsel: Lawrence Lustberg, Newark)