Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘restrictions on prisoner correspondence

Montana Prisoner, Held in Solitary, Sues Over English-Only Letter Policy

leave a comment »

The Montana ACLU has filed suit in federal court on behalf of a 26-year-old prisoner in solitary confinement at Montana State Prison, who alleges that prison officials are barring him from corresponding with his Spanish-speaking family in Guatemala. The AP reports:

Montana Department of Corrections policy allows prison officials to read any correspondence that isn’t a privileged letter from or to a judge, law clerk or the inmate’s attorney. The policy states any non-privileged correspondence will be withheld if it is in a “code or foreign language not understood by the reader.” …

[Plaintiff William] Diaz-Wassmer said he had no trouble receiving his mail during his first two years in prison. Some of those letters were in Spanish, and some in English.

But in May of last year, he received a notice from the prison staff that a letter from a friend was rejected because it was not written in English. Then a Spanish-language letter from his father also was rejected in August.

When Diaz-Wassmer complained, he said the mailroom supervisor told him the prison’s Spanish interpreter had departed, and that Diaz-Wassmer would receive letters again when another was hired.

Diaz-Wassmer is serving a 160-year term for “raping, killing and robbing a Livingston woman and then setting her house on fire to cover up the crimes.” According to the full complaint, which can be downloaded here (PDF), he has been held in solitary confinement since February 2010, spending 22 to 23 hours a day alone in his cell. Between prison restrictions and the high costs of phone calls and visits, letters are his primary way of communicating with his family. He claims that the prison’s effectively “English-only” policy violates his First Amendment rights as well as the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause.

Advertisements

Ohio Death Row Inmates Win Concessions, End Hunger Strike

leave a comment »

From the Columbus Dispatch:

A memo dated Friday from Warden David Bobby of the Ohio State Penitentiary at Youngstown outlined six policy changes being made for inmates under the prison’s “administrative maximum security” designation, the most restricted section of Death Row, which houses about 120 prisoners.

Inmates will be allowed “semi-contact” visits with family members, additional recreation time, access to computer-based legal research, phone privileges up to one hour per day and the opportunity to purchase more items from the commissary, including food and clothing. …

Attorneys Staughton and Alice Lynd, who have advocated for the Lucasville inmates, obtained a copy of the memo. They said the state’s capitulation was a surprise.

(h/t: The Crime Report)

Growing Trend: Jails Around the Country Adopting Postcard-only Policies

leave a comment »

I’ve noted a couple of lawsuits against jails that have adopted postcard-only policies for inmate correspondence. The Los Angeles Times reports that this is a nationwide trend that’s now spread from Joe Arpaio’s Maricopa County jails to at least seven states, including most recently, California’s Ventura County jail:

[Ventura County jail official Brent] Morris said that jail officials followed the emerging policy elsewhere through professional associations. They saw it as a way of both cutting security risks and freeing up staff. Two employees now spend most of their shifts sorting through mail flowing to and from 1,500 inmates.

“When you balance it with the challenge of budget and staffing, it seemed like a prudent thing to institute,” he said.

But for Los Angeles County, the tradeoff isn’t worth it, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department.

“We believe the mail coming to inmates is as important as their phone calls,” he said. “If we were to limit the mail, we believe we would see a rise in mental challenges, maybe even violence.”

UPDATE: Via Twitter, here’s a response from Just Detention International, which advocates for prison rape victims: “this could be problematic for organizations like JDI. We send important packets 2 survivors daily.”

ACLU Sues (Another) Colorado Jail over Postcard-only Policy

with one comment

Back in August, the ACLU of Colorado filed suit against the Boulder County Jail over its postcard-only policy for inmates. This week, the same organization announced a second lawsuit against the El Paso County Jail in Colorado Springs over a similar policy. While the Boulder sheriff defended his policy on safety grounds — as a response to an incident in which two inmates sent letters to area children — the El Paso sheriff has appealed to more of a cost-benefit explanation. From the Gazette:

The policy, implemented last month, says prisoners can only use the small cards sold for 50 cents by the jail. [Sheriff Terry] Maketa has described the new policy as a money-saving move that makes the overloaded jail mail room more efficient.

It also makes it easier for jailers to screen inmate mail for illegal plots, including escape plans. Inmate letters dealing with legal matters are still allowed.

Ultimately, both policies might be traced to the example of neighboring Arizona, and specifically to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was among the first sheriffs in the country to require jail inmates to use postcards — namely, postcards bearing his picture. Whatever the motivation, jails in several states have recently issued postcard-only policies, including Florida (as I noted here), Oregon, and most recently, Washington State (as noted in this editorial, praising the change, from Spokane’s local newspaper).

Written by sara

September 15, 2010 at 7:17 am

ACLU Files Suit Over Colorado Jail’s Postcard-only Policy

with 2 comments

The ACLU of Colorado has filed suit against the Boulder County Jail, challenging its recently implemented postcard-only policy for inmate correspondence as a violation of inmates’ First Amendment rights:

According to the class action lawsuit filed in federal district court in Denver, the postcard-only policy has forced prisoners to either abandon important correspondence or risk divulging highly confidential, sensitive information to anyone who will handle or see a postcard. As a result, gay prisoners have been chilled from expressing themselves when writing to their intimate partners. Prisoners with HIV or Hepatitis C have refrained from corresponding with family members about their medical conditions. Prisoners who express themselves through drawings or cartoons cannot enclose their art.  Those who wish to share an inspirational religious tract, or a clipping from a newspaper or magazine, are forbidden from doing so. When children may have access to the mailbox, parents are chilled from writing to their spouses about marital problems, child-raising issues, and other matters they do not wish to disclose to their children. The policy also prevents prisoners from using envelopes to send letters that seek spiritual guidance from clergy, provide sensitive information to investigative reporters, or to submit articles or letters to newspapers or other periodicals for publication.

The policy was adopted after an incident in which two inmates sent letters to Boulder-area children by forwarding the letters through a third party. David Fathi of the ACLU National Prison Project said that he understands the jail’s need to respond to this situation, but that the policy adopted “is an over-reaction” and the jail could have come up with a less restrictive alternative. The plaintiffs’ complaint and other court documents can be downloaded here.

Written by sara

August 3, 2010 at 12:46 pm

%d bloggers like this: