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2 South Dakota inmates sue over tablets

June 21, 2018 GMT

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — Two lawsuits filed by South Dakota inmates allege the state Department of Corrections’ tablet computers are blocking access to the courts.

Rex Gard, an inmate at Mike Durfee State Prison, filed the second tablet-related lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday, the Rapid City Journal reported. Gard alleges that the tablet software is prone to malfunctions and doesn’t provide access to legal databases as promised.

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South Dakota opted for the tablets in lieu of paying legal aides and furnishing a law library last year. The Corrections Department insisted that inmates could access the necessary legal documents to help in filing appeals and other civil documents through their tablets.

“The Lexis/Nexis application has been, despite frequent assurances that repairs were underway, only intermittently active since 2017, leaving many inmates with no access to the case law and statutes theoretically available on the tablets,” Gard’s lawsuit stated.

Another inmate at the same prison filed a similar federal lawsuit last month. Inmate Winston Brakeall claims the shuttering of the law library and the canceling of legal aid contracts left him unaware he had improperly filed a grievance. Brakeall had filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act protesting prison conditions.

The state’s decision to deliver legal access through tablet computers will be contested Oct. 30 in the trial for Brakeall’s case.

States must guarantee inmates the right to “adequate, effective and meaningful” access to the courts under the 14th Amendment, but the definition of access varies by state.

The Corrections Department declined the newspaper’s request for comment.

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com