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Inmates file lawsuit claiming Iowa's ban on porn in prisons violates their constitutional rights

Fifty-eight Iowa prison inmates are suing the state in an attempt to overturn a new law banning pornography in correctional facilities. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

Dozens of prison inmates are suing officials in Iowa, saying the state's recent ban on pornography in correctional facilities violates their constitutional rights.

What are the details?

The Des Moines Register reported that 58 prisoners at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility are plaintiffs in a lawsuit that seeks to overturn a new state law prohibiting inmates from having access to commercially published nude photos or sexually explicit material. The plaintiffs are seeking $25,000 each in damages.

In their lawsuit, the inmates claim the ban on pornography was enacted under the guise of "morality" by "religious tyrants," CNN reported.

Prior to the new law taking effect on Nov. 14, prisons in the state had designated pornography reading rooms and Playboy magazines were allowed in the facilities.

While debating the bill in the Iowa Senate prior to its passage, former Iowa State Penitentiary employee Sen. Rich Taylor (D) argued that the legislation ignores the reality that male prisoners have a sexual drive.

"That is just a fact and you have to have some way to relieve that," Taylor said. "This gives the inmates no release point except another offender, and don't think that it doesn't happen. This will make it worse. They will have no other alternatives for their relief. I think that this is a bad idea."

But the Iowa prison system's general counsel, Michael Savala, urged lawmakers to pass the ban on porn.

"The department really feels that inmates having access to that kind of material does not lend itself to pro-social thinking and behavior and as far as our responsibilities to change the mindset of the offender as they transition back into the community," Savala said.

Savala told the Register prison officials are confident that the porn ban would withstand the inmates' court challenge, saying that the new law mirrors a policy used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Anything else?

Iowa Department of Corrections Communications Director Cord Overton told the Register that inmates were given months to prepare for the new guidelines, so they could end subscriptions to sexually explicit magazines and the like.

"Operationally, department leadership advised the incarcerated individuals and staff that after the 14th of November, we would not be 'shaking the institution down,'" Overton said, "but any pornography found during the course of a routine search might lead to discipline. We have had no real issues so far."

Overton wouldn't comment on the suit to CNN, but told the outlet, "While we aren't surprised that the statute passed by the Iowa Legislature is facing a potential challenge in court, the department does not comment on pending litigation."

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