Jail Newspaper Ban Not Justified by Threat of Clogged Toilets and Paper Mâché Weapons

Court declares newspaper ban in Chicago-area jails to be a violation of inmates' First Amendment rights.



Inmates in Chicago-area jails will now be allowed to read newspapers, after a federal judge ruled that a policy banning them was in violation of the First Amendment. The unconstitutional ban has been in place in Cook County since 1984. 

The case was brought by Gregory Koger, who was arrested in 2009 for misdemeanor trespassing, simple battery, and resisting arrest. Koger was sentenced to 300 days jail time, the last four months of which he spent in Cook County Jail.

While there, a friend sent Koger letters, books, magazines, and a copy of the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune alone was returned to Koger's friend, with a form marked "no newspapers." In October 2013, after an initial complaint received no comment, Koger filed a suit against Cook County claiming that the newspaper ban violated his First Amendment rights. 

Here's the rationale Cook County offered the court for the newspaper ban: 

(1)newspapers are flammable,

(2) they can cause sanitation problems (inmates can usethem to clog toilets, and they are issued with greater frequency than other publications,thus increasing the volume of material that must be disposed),

(3) newspapers can befashioned into weapons using paper mâché, and

(4) they can cause violence (inmatesmay learn about the nature of other inmates' charges or about outside gang activity).

In his opinion, Judge Matthew Kennelly of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois concluded that the newspaper policy could, indeed, be rationally connected to a legitimate government interest, in this case jail security. And yet inmates are allowed to possess books, magazines (including those made from the same material as newspapers), paper bags, notepaper, drawing pads, envelopes, greeting cards, playing cards, letters, photos, toilet paper, and extra bedding. "All of this material can, like newspapers, be used to start fires, clog toilets, or make weapons," Kennelly pointed out.

"Defendants contend that newspapers are uniquely flammable," he continued.

But … there is not a speck of evidence to support this contention (indeed, it is undisputed that defendants did not consider empirical evidence about the flammability of newspapers in fashioning the policy). … Moreover, because the jail already limits inmate possessions to a property box, allowing newspapers would not increase the amount of such material in circulation. On this record, no reasonable factfinder could find that lifting the ban on newspapers would have more than a de minimis impact on the number of fires, clogged toilets, or paper mâché weapons in the jail. 

The judge further noted that even if safety or waste issues are a legit concern, permitting newspapers only in jail libraries and dayrooms should mitigate these problems without completely violating inmates' First Amendment rights—a suggestion from Koger that Cook County had simply shrugged off. "The existence of this obvious, easy alternative to a total ban suggests that banning newspapers is an exaggerated and therefore unreasonable response to the jail's concerns," concluded Kennelly, addng that "the newspaper policies of other penal institutions provide further evidence that the ban is an exaggerated response to concerns about institutional security." 

In response to the court's decision, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart (who has also been in the news recently for pressuring Visa and Mastercard to stop payment processing for the website Backpage) said that, "historically, newspapers posed significant issues in the jail." However, the county is "making arrangements to provide our detainee population with access to newspapers in a controlled and safe manner." 

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  1. Now if they could just rule that nonviolent drug offenders sentences were in violation of their rights…

  2. “All of this material can, like newspapers, be used to start fires, clog toilets, or make weapons,” Kennelly pointed out.


    1. they can pull and file their teeth into weapons. Now me must remove all of their teeth.

      1. Go on…..


    2. No. Selective, arbitrary bans show the power of the jailers over the jailed. It’s on purpose. This wasn’t about logic. This was “why can’t we have newspapers if we can have books?” and the answer (from the warden and staff) was “fuck you, that’s why” until this ruling.

      People who like power really like arbitrary bans. A lot.

  3. OT

    Her Son Died By Lighting Fireworks On His Head; Now She Wants Stricter Laws

    Devon Staples, 22, was killed instantly this past 4th of July weekend after he attempted to light a firework off the top of his head. Staples became the first firework-related fatality in Maine since the state first legalized fireworks back in 2012. While some may see Staples’ unfortunate accident as a nominee for the Darwin Awards, his mother, Kathleen Staples, sees it as a call for stricter laws regarding who can and cannot handle explosives.

    “At least it’d be a little bit more than, ‘Here you go,'” the grieving mother told the Associated Press. “That’s an explosive. They didn’t just hand me a license and put me in the car.”

    1. I hope she never sees all the crazy shit one can acquire at a hardware store without a license.

    2. People have been posting this all day and I just sort of assumed the kid was like 6 or something. 22?? Sounds like he was into doing silly things for shits and giggles. I can sympathize. But he was probably bound to do something damaging, if not deadly, with that kind of mentality.

      1. But he was probably bound to do something damaging, if not deadly, with that kind of mentality.

        Agreed. My first reading I thought he would’ve really had to work at it. Once I realized he’d put a mortar tube on his head, I realized he was lucky not to have killed someone else.

        Like waiving a gun around without knowing if it’s loaded or not.

      2. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

      3. I had the exact same reaction! I thought maybe the kid is a 9 year old and got his hands on some fireworks.

        22? He’s a fucking dumbass worthy of the Darwin Award.

        1. I agree. He died a hero.

        2. Not eligible. He reproduced before he did himself in.

        3. Reportedly his last words were:

          “Hold my beer and lobster roll and watch this!”

    3. Devon Staples, 22, was killed instantly this past 4th of July weekend after he attempted to light a firework off the top of his head.

      What a bright idea!

    4. There was a viral video about ten years ago with a guy launching a bottle rocket from his asshole. Surprise, surprise, he badly burned his nutsack in the process. It’s nice to see a fine tradition continue.

      1. Surprise, surprise, he badly burned his nutsack in the process.

        This was dumb. What the guy in Maine did was positively dangerous (not that either have any bearing on the legality of fireworks).

    5. A lot of people really, really hate personal responsibility. That’s why they love government so much.

    6. Gasoline is an explosive.

      1. We need to ban gasoline and stop pumping it willy-nilly into peoples cars and gas tanks.

        1. it’s flammable and needs and ignitor.

          1. A puddle of gasoline is flammable. Aerosolized gasoline is explosive.

            Don’t tell me you never played Pearl Harbor in a backyard swimming pool (before anyone asks, its where you light a puddle of gasoline on fire on top of the pool and swim underneath it).

            1. Listen to you, rich boy, with your swimming pool.

              We would sometimes sneak into the municipal pool but the consequence was nearly always a vicious case of pink-eye.

              Gasoline for us was always medicinal or used to burn something down because they had it coming.

    7. Her son could have been a doctor or a lawyer it’s true
      Instead he burned up like a piggy on a barbeque.
      Should we blame the matches? Should we blame the fire?
      Or the doctor who allowed him to expire?

    8. his mother, Kathleen Staples, sees it as a call for stricter laws regarding who can and cannot handle explosives.

      Funny, I see it as a call for stricter laws regarding who can and cannot raise children, Ms. Staples.

      1. Gee, why wouldn’t he want to go on living with a mother like that in his life???

    9. I lit a firework on my head once. I was drunk and wanted to impress a girl. It was a cone and it scorched the shit out of my hand. As a victim of self-inflicted firework violence, I wholly endorse and support this woman’s cause.

    10. “Staples’ unfortunate accident ”

      No. No it wasn’t.

  4. The judge further noted that even if safety or waste issues are a legit concern, permitting newspapers only in jail libraries and dayrooms should mitigate these problems…


    1. yes

      John Roberts

    2. The judge actually made a snarky comment in this vein in his opinion, like “While I hate to do the Defendant’s work for them, maybe they could try…”

      1. (maybe snarky isn’t the right word. annoyed. throughout the whole thing, he seemed very annoyed by Cook County, amusingly)

  5. “(4) they can cause violence (inmatesmay learn about the nature of other inmates’ charges or about outside gang activity).”

    The jail in Mayberry where I used to work banned newspapers for this reason. Really bad shit happens when inmates find out the dude they thought was in for robbery actually fucked a seven year old.

    1. I wouldn’t call it “really bad shit” if the dude actually fucked a seven year old, I’d call it just about the right amount of shit. (assuming the shit you’re referring to happened to said kiddie diddler.)

      1. Not to mention that denying people information under the specter of infrequent and not-specifically-named real bad shit happening is how pretty much every shitty secret organization in history legitimized it’s practices.

        I doubt they question every new prisoner for any and all the relevant facts about every other prisoner before letting them in.

      2. I consider extrajudicial punishment bad shit.

      3. Hey, the priest that was unfrocked because he had a taste for humping veal now works for the TSA at Philiadelphia International.

        I feel safer already.

    2. Seven year olds, dude.

      1. I’ll be in my bunk.

    3. A guy I know spent 2 weeks in jail for a weed probation violation. A new prisoner came in randomly like they all do. The next morning the paper had a story about him, little kid stuff. Everyone stayed away from that guy like the plague. Not sure what happened later though.

  6. You’ll never guess who’s responsible for the 30+% sell-off in stocks in the Chinese markets. They’ve lost something near $3.5 trillion in value over the last 30 days.

    You guessed it; it was mean foreigners!!

    Hostile foreigners responsible for sell off

    The Chinese government is expected to introduce new policies to rescue the market, since further a decline will hurt companies’ ability to borrow money and will put pressure on the economy.


    Good luck with that, bitches.

    1. I’m surprised the didn’t call them foreign devils.

      There are stories of Shaolin master who claims traders can stop stock prices from falling if they practice a special boxing exercise.

      1. We’re lucky, not so much Chinese investors buying on margin, but we get to watch in real time a depression level unwind. We’ve watched the various bubbles percolate up, and we’ve seen the creative and not so creative policy steps central planners have taken to avoid catastrophe, and now we get to see the short term consequences of their failures. Too bad we’re all going to live with the long term consequences.

        They’ll be cursing Keynes’s name before it’s all over.

        1. Do you dare question the Prophet Keynes?

        2. Do you not know you will offend the Animal Spirits?

        3. “They’ll be cursing Keynes’s name before it’s all over.”

          Doubt it. If the only options are to reign in hell or serve in heaven, I know what most of these technocrats would pick.

    2. I thought it was those gad damn Mongorians

      1. It’s the Germans and the banksters!

        /the Greeks

        1. It’s the Greeks and the parasites!

          /the Germans

          1. No, the Greeks ARE the parasites…

    3. I didn’t unload my AlianzGI China Equity Fund in time. Whoops.

      1. Annnnd it’s gone.

        1. Sort of. Still worth more than I paid for it.

          1. +1 (or more)

  7. Here’s the rationale Cook County offered the court

    Stupid liars lie, stupidly. Quelle surprise

  8. This article on Dead Gaston says he found what he thought was a dud mortar tube and had it on his his head when it went off.

    I guess the cause of death was a broken neck or depressed skull fracture from the recoil?

    It usually says “do not put in hand ” and/or “light fuse and get away” on fireworks. Dead Gaston is a shoe-in for a Darwin.

    My dad told me when I was a youngin that the most dangerous firework is one that you think is a dud, but isn’t. Never pick one up.

    [sparkly rainbow comet]
    The more you derp know….

    1. Yep. If it doesnt go off, just leave it alone. Of course throwing firecrackers was still a stupid idea. But if it didn’t go off, do not go over and pick it up.

      1. Throwing firecrackers is a great idea.

      2. When I was a wee lad, I once killed a wasp by trapping it in a mason jar with a fire cracker and then used a magnifying glass to light the fuse. There was a POOOMP! and an instant cloud of gray smoke. That was the extent of my cruelty to animals phase.

        1. We’d shoot rockets offo of our porch at the neighbors house pretty regularly. Every once in a while they’d ping off the glass of their bay window and they’d run out and yell at us…
          …then start returning fire.

          I can only remember one person ever getting hit with a ball from a Roman candle. And I’m pretty sure they ended up just fine.

          1. I used to build my own attempts at M-80s out of plastic plumbing tubing and black powder/777. I even made the fuses. They made some very satisfying booms and would rain bits of plastic down over a wide area. Duds were left to their own devices for like an hour before I’d go near them. Well, that’s not true. More like five minutes. But it always felt like an hour.

            1. I made my own fuses too. Cotton string soaked in a potassium nitrate solution and dried for 24 hours. They were incredibly reliable.

              1. Yup, I used to make a mixture of water and 777 into a mud that I then rolled plant-based twine through and let dry. If done properly it was pretty reliable. However, you know what makes a surprisingly awesome fuse, as long as you have a nice tight fusehole (just like with your mom) so that random sparks can’t set things off prematurely (just like with your mom)? Sparklers. They’re reliable, they’re visual so you can see exactly what progress they’ve made even at a distance, and they’re cheap and plentiful.

                1. I’d be concerned about chucks of lit sparkler getting blown somewhere they shouldn’t. They have magnesium in them, and are very good at starting fires.

            2. In college I used to shoot bottle rockets off our rear balcony towards the open windows of the apt house next door – 10 feet away. Those girls hated us because we also wiz zed onto their windows in the winter.

      3. “But if it didn’t go off, do not go over and pick it up.”

        You pick it up and throw it back!

    2. He didn’t *find* it, they were lighting them off.

      An unlabeled mortar tube isn’t unheard of, but… *it’s still a mortar tube*! Without more info on the mortar the death could be up to and including decapitation.

      1. And…

        who had nearly eloped with his fianc?e days before his death.

        Well, he did dodge *that* bullet.

        1. I would say she dodged a bullet by not marrying a nitwit.

          They found one his son mistakenly thought was a dud.

          “They lit it and it did not go off,” his father said. “He was waving it around his head (and it exploded).”

          Random thought: I had a dream it was my job to crash cars. I would go to a lot, get in a car, crash it into a house or a tree, then limp back to the lot and repeat the process a dozen times. I guess it means I hated my job.

          Other random thought: The same 5 or 6 movies are always on: The Terminator, Jaws, Con Air, Shawshank Redemption, and Red Dawn.

      2. “I was the first one who got there. There was no rushing him to the hospital. There was no Devon left when I got there,” Cody Staples said to New York Daily News.

        They seem to keep emphasizing instant death, so you could be right.

        1. Do they get a discount on cremation if he’s half done already?

          1. I doubt he was half done. It takes a lot of energy to cremate a body.

            1. If the super-hot burn got to his lungs, there’s a chance a lot of him went up. IIRC, that’s the explanation for several cases of spontaneous combustion. You get a very high heat to the fuel source inside the body and *poof*!

              1. Those stories are all morbidly obese people. This guy was in good shape.

  9. Fuckinass jail where I used to live, well they had a ban on newspapers as well. This included the smallest newspaper clipping. Photocopies of newspapers, however, were admitted (In those days, this was a pretty expensive thing to ask.). One could only come to know this, however, by trial and error, and it was one of the few jail rules which remained consistent through the decade in which I was a regular visitor. The actual written rules were supposed to exist somewhere, but were kept secret and could be known by no one. And they could change at any time. I come to be fairly certain that most of the rules was just made up crap and the inexplicable reversals from week to week was just to fuck with people.

    1. Like one week I come in visitting and signed up with the guard and got in the cue and we’s all going in, like every week, and just as I come near to passing the door, he leaps up and has his forearm across my chest and seems to be doing his best to wrestle me to the floor, but like a lot of them he’s a short fat man without a lot of strength. I say hey man what the blazes and he goes on to explain that I’m too young to be allowed to visit a prisoner using the form he had me fill out a bit earlier. So I step out of line, do the other form, and get back in the cue and eventually get let in. Very next week, he gives me the new form, I fill it out, we get in line, just before it’s my turn to pass through, he comes leaping at me again. This time I was kind of shy and got out of the way quick as you please. Eventually I got the explanation that I was now too old to be using the new form and should be using the regular one. I really don’t think he even knew my age, and I sure as fuck didn’t have a fucking birthday that week, and so far as I could tell there wasn’t anything peculiar about the forms to say that one applied to one age group and one to another–more likely they were from a newer and older batch from the typesetter or something. Plus there’s that each time he guided me through the process which he only a short while later used as cause for an attack.

    2. Supposing he was just a lamebrained dope (though I saw him reading Nazi apologetics at his desk nonstop when he wasn’t fucking people over), and he only discovered his error when I was just about to go in, why go for immediately for a physical attack before anything less crasy?

      1. COs are the lowest form of human garbage, sounds like u had the ubfortunate experience of direct involvement

  10. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.online-jobs9.com

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