Sat. Sep 30th, 2023


In April 2011, an Indiana inmate was placed in isolation, denied jail privileges, and given another 30 days on his sentence for the alleged violation of prison rules. The purported offense was downloading legal forms on a prison library computer for other inmates — a task inmate Eric Grandberry completed at the request of prison staff.

It took three years and two federal appeals court rulings. But on Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held once and for all what apparently was not obviously to the state corrections department: you can’t punish a prisoner for doing what he was told.

“It is more than a little surprising to encounter an argument by a prison system that an inmate may be penalized for obeying an order by the prison’s staff,” wrote a unanimous three-judge panel. “… If the library staff gave Grandberry improper orders, the penalty should fall on the staff members.”

The state did not dispute that prison staff specifically asked Grandberry to download forms for other inmates. In fact, Grandberry was the the head inmate law clerk at Putnamville Correctional facility, and it was typically part of his job to download legal forms for other prisoners. Instead, it argued that Grandberry should have flouted these orders because doing so would be against prison rules. In defense of this argument against Grandberry, the state followed the case through two appeals without ever backing down from its position.

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