Florida Inmates Challenge Jail’s Postcard-Only Policy
The AP and the Gainesville (Fla.) Sun both have reports on policies in a handful of Florida counties that limit jail inmates’ mail to postcards only (with exceptions for legal correspondence). Jail officials say that the policy both cuts down on contraband and gets inmates their mail faster since it’s easier to sort. However, a group of Manatee County inmates have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the policy as a First Amendment violation. From the AP article:
Manatee’s policy, begun in June, even restricts writing to blue or black ink, and bars drawings of any kind. Jail officials say the restrictions prevent gang symbols and communication.
Attorneys for the Manatee inmates and relatives, James E. Felman and Katherine Earle Yanes, filed a 22-page amended complaint Feb. 18 alleging the rule unfairly limits the inmates’ primary means of communication.
It even prevents relatives from sending children’s drawings or family pictures, the complaint alleges.
Yanes said most inmates are being detained pretrial, and haven’t even been convicted of wrongdoing.
“The First Amendment protects the rights of inmates, just like it protects the rights of everyone in this country,” she said. “It’s not only the inmates’ rights that are implicated in this, but the rights of anyone who wants to communicate to inmates.” …
Case law may be on the jails’ side, said John F. Stinneford, assistant professor of law at the University of Florida. Stinneford said courts have found similar jail restrictions constitutional if they represent a legitimate government interest [such as security].
“Obviously, there are certain types of communication the prisoners won’t be able to receive via postcard,” Stinneford said. “But I’m not sure that is going to be big enough of a problem to overcome.”