By Steve Bittenbender
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) - Kentucky's prisons policy that allows inmates' mail to be censored for material they claim promotes homosexuality is under review, the state corrections commissioner said on Monday, following a complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union.
"I have asked our general counsel to research the issue and provide guidance," Commissioner Rodney Ballard responded in an email when asked about the complaint.
ACLU lawyers Bill Sharp and Ria Tabacco Mar said in a March 15 letter to Kathy Litteral, warden of the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex, that the prison had rejected mail at least 13 times since August for violating state policy.
The letter followed an open records act probe of the medium-security prison prompted by complaints to the nonprofit group, they said.
The censored items included personal letters and pictures as well as Out and The Advocate magazines, the lawyers said in the letter, a copy of which was reviewed by Reuters. They said the state policy denies inmates' their First Amendment rights.
Litteral could not be reached for comment.
The ACLU asked the prison, which houses almost 1,700 inmates in West Liberty, 90 miles east of Lexington, to respond by March 30. Failure to take action would result in further steps by the group, said Mar, staff attorney for the group's National LGBT Project. She declined to elaborate when reached by email.
"The mail policy is based on the dubious notion that gay prisoners pose a security threat simply for being who they are and the equally absurd idea that reading about gay people will somehow make you gay," Mar said in a blog on ACLU's website.
"Gay people are no more likely to pose a threat than anyone else," she added. "And reading articles about gay celebrities and news doesn't make anyone gay, any more than it makes anyone heterosexual to read articles in People about Beyoncé and Jay-Z."
Mar said she did not know if other Kentucky prisons had similar procedures.
In the latest policy update on the Kentucky Department of Corrections website, the section on pornography and sexually explicit materials allows prison officials to reject materials considered a security threat.
Examples for justifiable exclusions include homosexual materials, along with sadism, bestiality and child nudity.
The policy also states that "exclusion shall not be based upon sexual content alone."
(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender, Editing by Ben Klayman and Richard Chang)