Sex Offender Had No Right to Car Magazines in Prison

By Brett Snider, Esq. on January 28, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A prisoner in a sex offender program in Texas has no right to his hot rod magazines, despite the prison's limiting policies on mail.

Shawn Stauffer, an inmate in Texas' Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP), had his 1983 claims smacked down by the Fifth Circuit on Friday seeking both a million dollars in monetary damages and injunctive relief.

So why did the court uphold the state's policies and deny Stauffer his car magazines?

Fifth Circuit Puts Brakes on Hot Rod 'Zines

Stauffer's complaints started after the mailroom confiscated his copies of CarCraft, HotRod, Performance Products, and Jeg's Performance Parts citing both their distracting nature from the intensive SOTP as well as at least one magazine containing "display[ing] women in sexually provocative positions." It wouldn't be the first magazine in the world to pose a woman next to a car in a prurient manner, but the SOTP had a strict policy against such materials.

In fact, the SOTP rules even prohibited any publications "other than newspapers and religious material." For this and other reasons, the mailroom confiscated Stauffer's car magazines.

Unlike other mailroom confiscation cases, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had a procedure for dealing with Stauffer's mailroom grievance. He appealed, failed, and then filed a Section 1983 suit against the prison employees.

The Fifth Circuit upheld the lower court's ruling for summary judgment on the prison's behalf, stating that since Stauffer suffered no physical injuries and is no longer in the SOTP, he stated no case for relief.

Mootness and Damages

Part of the problem with Stauffer's suit is that the SOTP already changed their policies to allow magazines in general after he filed his complaint. That combined with the fact that Stauffer is no longer in the program made his claim for injunctive relief moot.

The new rules still contain prohibitions sexual content or publications that promote drug use, and other circuits have affirmed that this sort of content prohibition in prison mail does not violate the First Amendment.

Turning to his million dollar compensation claims for the confiscation of Stauffer's magazines, the Fifth Circuit noted that the proper remedy for these sorts of takings is in state court, not through Section 1983.

Bottom Line

Prison regulations are still given an extremely deferential standard under Turner v. Safley, and most prison regulations which are rationally related to a government interest -- like not letting sex offenders have access to sexual or violent content -- will be upheld.

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