Appellate Court Upholds 3-Book Policy of County Jail But Grants Damages Remedy to Inmate for Jail’s Destruction of Excess Books

March 11, 2020

Generally, jail officials have substantial discretion in operating a jail, and inmates do not have the same liberties as those not incarcerated. This applies to reading material. In Koger v. Dart, an inmate sued the Cook County Sheriff, claiming that the Jail’s “three-book policy” violated his First Amendment rights. A federal judge dismissed the claim on summary judgment, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court held that the policy was supported by valid penological interests, such as mitigating the onerous and labor intensive task of searching for contraband. However, the jail was not completely victorious. Even though the 3-book policy was valid on First Amendment grounds, the jail destroyed the books as contraband before the inmate was released from jail. This may have violated the inmate’s Due Process rights. Because the books themselves are not contraband, the jail could not dispose of them without giving the inmate notice and an opportunity to be heard on what books he wanted to keep and what to do with the rest once he was released. If Cook County indeed had such a constitutionally deficient policy, it could be liable to the inmate in money damages for the lost books.

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