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Judge rejects challenge to prison pastoral rules

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 18, 2013 at 9:02 am •  Published: March 18, 2013

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A federal judge has rejected a challenge brought by a group of Kentucky death row inmates to rules governing how and when pastors visit them at the Kentucky State Penitentiary.

U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell concluded that prison officials temporarily suspended pastoral visits at the maximum security prison in Eddyville for both security reasons and to bring the prison's regulations in line with Kentucky Department of Corrections regulations.

Russell also concluded that prison officials did not retaliate against inmates who complained about the change in visitation policy.

Five death row inmates sued the Department of Corrections in 2011 accusing the Corrections Department and prison of violating their First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which governs religion in prisons.

The prison system changed its policy in 2010 requiring inmates to place pastors on one of three slots on an inmate's visitation list to meet with them one-on-one. Previously, pastors had greater flexibility to visit the inmates one-on-one. The policy has since been changed to allow more than one inmate to place a pastor on a visitor list, allowing them to visit with as many inmates as possible as long as they receive prior approval from the warden.

"Temporary suspension of clergy visits as improperly practiced was the only available alternative to KSP officials while they corrected their institutional policy and learned how to understand and apply the departmental policy," Russell wrote.

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