Judge supports prison's decision to take printed books from inmates amid pandemic
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Officials at a Louisiana jail reacted reasonably to the COVID-19 pandemic by taking away printed books and giving inmates tablets on which they could read books instead, a federal judge has ruled.
Magistrate Judge Janis van Meerveld dismissed Terrebonne Parish jail inmate James Robert Pitre’s lawsuit claiming that his constitutional rights were violated when his Bible and other books were taken.
The Bible was available on his tablet, and he got one of his printed Bibles back after one day, van Meerveld said.
She also noted that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised using digital rather than printed materials if possible.
“Therefore, it cannot be fairly said that the jail’s book policy was an ‘exaggerated response’ to the pandemic,” she wrote in a May 5 opinion.
Pitre, who represented himself in court papers, filed the suit Oct. 6 with the federal court in New Orleans.
“I have requested books many times over the past year,” wrote Pitre, 42. “I have been denied for one reason or another. I have also requested to write to publishers to send me books, these requests have also been denied. Books have been banned and removed from the dorms for no reason, including religious materials.”
Attorney Bill Dodd, who represents the Sheriff’s Office, said physical books were removed from the jail in 2020 to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“You don’t know how many inmates have touched those books and if they were sick or not,” he told The Courier.
The judge wrote that letting inmates get and share books before the tablets arrived “would have defeated the policy’s legitimate purpose to limit the possibility of COVID-19 spreading within the jail – to the detriment of both the staff and the inmates.”
She described the decision to get them tablets “was a rare occasion on which the alternative was clearly a ‘win-win’ solution for both the inmates and their custodians.”
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