This goes out to prisoners of the Maricopa County Jails:
The end of the postcard-only policy will come to this state only if you file grievances and appeal them all the way to the top, then file suit. Please do so if you plan to be there at least another 6 months.
Your grievances should specify that the policy is a violation of your first amendment rights. Note the reasons raised below that the court said such a policy is a constitutional violation in Oregon (article 2). Itemize the kinds of consequences that the policy has had to you, personally (ie: increased isolation, despair and loss of intimacy; loss of housing or defaulting on debts or missing critical information for being unable to attend to personal business; decreased likelihood of staying out of jail/prison if close relationships are disrupted; lack of information about current events may impede your ability to participate in your defense; and so on.) Tell them the remedy you desire is the end of the policy and the allowance of regular mail again.
In the meantime, you should check out the library at the jail for legal resources, and ask for a "Section 1983 Civil Suit filing packet". The most recent version should be May 2013. Get to know the library's resources, you'll need them. Be good to your librarian, too - you need them a s well. Dont go around talking about suing, either - keep it on the down low or face harassment and retaliation by officers and administrators. But let other prisoners know what you are doing, in the hopes they will join in.
At the same time you try to get the info from the library, write to the US District Court and ask for a current "packet for prisoners needing to file pro se" (with no attorney). They will send you the forms and instructions, including for how to file if you have no money to put down up front for the filing fee ($400) - that should not stop you. See who comes through with the right documents for you the fastest. Always trust the courts before you trust the jail's instructions and paperwork, though. Here's the addy:
If the jail staff are intimidating you or impeding your ability to file a lawsuit in any way, send what evidence you have of their conduct to the ACLU, below. If at all possible, though, you need to have a loved one run a shadow file for you of all your important documents from this point forward. Once they realize what we're doing, the jail will tear up your houses and try to destroy any evidence you have that could be used against them, so mail all your docs out somewhere safe and retrievable ASAP.
Tell the ACLU you want to file a Section 1983 federal civil rights suit to seek an injunction to end the postcard-only policy of Sheriff Joe's. It's being thrown out by the federal courts all across the country. Ask them to help you and other prisoners fight it. The more who write to them, having completed the grievance process, the more likely they will be to deal with it. They aren't inviting you to do this, by the way - I'm suggesting it as our strategy to elicit their help. No guarantee that they will have the capacity to, though, even if they desire to.
Families of MCSO prisoners: you also have standing to sue, if this policy is infringing on your first amendment rights, too. Talk to the ACLU-AZ about what you might be able to do, too.
I write the blog Arizona Prison Watch, by the way, from my home, and I'm no attorney, just a well-intended anarchist; this is how I fight the state. My address is PO Box 20494 / Phoenix, AZ 85036 - phone is 480-580-6807. email is firstname.lastname@example.org I'd love it if you'd all keep me in the loop too - I can run a shadow file for prisoners if you are willing to commit to this effort and send me your documentation.
Finally, if you're going to be doing all this because you expect to be stuck in jail for awhile, subscribe to Prison Legal News, PO Box 1151, Lake Worth, FL 33460. Its only $30 a year for prisoners, and well worth it.
Good luck, and blessings. May we all someday live free.
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, email@example.com
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation (ACLU-MO) filed a lawsuit against Cape Girardeau County challenging the constitutionality of its recently implemented postcard-only policy for family and friends writing jail inmates.
The ACLU-MO represents Cheryl Simpson, who, prior to the jail policy, would regularly send her son two and three-page double-sided letters. Under the new policy, she would need to use over 40 postcards (costing over $15.00 in postage) to communicate the same information she could send in one envelope with a 49¢ stamp. Additionally, she can no longer send her son pictures and other documents.
This policy severely restricts the free speech rights of friends and family who desire to stay connected with inmates, many of whom are awaiting trial and presumed innocent. "The content of Ms. Simpson’s written correspondence is quantitatively less, and substantively different, than it would be had the policy not changed, which is a real infringement of her constitutionally protected right to communicate with her son," said Tony Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU of Missouri.
Communication through mail is often the only practical form of communication available to inmates. Often, family members live far away and cannot visit regularly. Moreover, telephone calls from the jail are very expensive and in-person visits are limited. These barriers make it all the more essential that friends and family members be allowed to correspond with inmates through regular letters and not be limited to sending and receiving postcards.
"Writing private letters is important to friends and families of inmates because it allows them to stay connected and to express – at length and in detail – their private concerns about family relationships, health problems, and financial issues, and reintegration – such as employment and education – after an inmate’s release from jail," said Jeffrey A. Mittman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Missouri.
The ACLU of Missouri is seeking a court order preventing Cape Girardeau County from returning all-mail that is not on postcards. Last year a federal court in Oregon found Columbia County’s similar policy unconstitutional. The jail in Jefferson County, Arkansas also recently rescinded its postcard-only policy.
The court’s order can be found on the ACLU-MO website.
Human Rights Defense Center
For Immediate Release
April 25, 2013
Federal Court Strikes Down Postcard-only Policy at Columbia County Jail
Portland, OR – On April 24, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Portland Division, held that a postcard-only policy at the Columbia County Jail, which restricted mail sent to and from detainees at the facility to postcards, is unconstitutional. The court therefore has prohibited enforcement of the policy permanently – the first time in the United States that a jail’s postcard-only policy has been struck down following a trial on the merits.
The ruling, by federal judge Michael H. Simon, was entered in a lawsuit against Columbia County and Sheriff Jeff Dickerson filed by Prison Legal News (PLN), a non-profit monthly publication that covers criminal justice-related issues. PLN, a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, sued in January 2012 after Columbia County jail employees rejected PLN’s monthly news publication and letters mailed to detainees. Further, the jail had failed to provide PLN with notice or an opportunity to appeal the jail’s censorship of PLN’s materials.
The rejection of PLN’s publications and letters was attributed to the jail’s postcard-only policy and a policy and practice that prohibited detainees from receiving magazines. PLN contended that such policies violated its rights under the First Amendment, and that the lack of notice and opportunity to appeal was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
During the litigation, the defendants admitted “that inmates have a First Amendment right to receive magazines and inmates and their correspondents have a Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process.” However, the jail defended its postcard-only policy and claimed there was no official policy banning magazines at the jail.
On May 29, 2012, Judge Simon entered a preliminary injunction prohibiting the defendants from enforcing their postcard-only policy. He ruled that the policy "drastically restricts an inmate’s ability to communicate with the outside world," and "prevents an inmate’s family from sending items such as photographs, children’s report cards and drawings, and copies of bills, doctor reports, and spiritual and religious tracts." The court also observed that the jail’s postcard-only policy "inhibits rehabilitation," citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found "inmate freedom to correspond with outsiders advances rather than retards the goal of rehabilitation." Undeterred, the defendants continued to defend their policy at trial, held from February 5 to 8, 2013.
Following the trial, the district court found in its April 24 ruling that the defendants’ rationales for adopting the postcard-only policy at the jail – preventing the introduction of contraband and saving time during mail inspection – were not supported by the evidence.
The court also determined that jail employees “did not in fact allow magazines to enter the Jail,” and that a ban on magazines was specifically declared in the jail’s inmate handbook, in a jail memorandum and on the jail’s website. Further, "Sheriff Dickerson credibly testified that he did not know that the First Amendment required the Jail to allow inmates to receive magazines when he took office in 2009." The district court therefore concluded that the defendants had a policy and custom of prohibiting magazines, in violation of the First Amendment.
Accordingly, Judge Simon entered a permanent injunction that enjoins the defendants from restricting incoming and outgoing mail to postcards only. "[T]he postcard-only policy creates a hurdle to thoughtful, personal, and constructive written communications between an inmate and his or her unincarcerated family and friends," he wrote. He also declared "that inmates have a First Amendment right to receive magazines and that it would be unconstitutional for Defendants to refuse to deliver magazines to inmates solely because they are magazines," and that detainees and their correspondents have a right to procedural due process when mail is rejected, including notice of the rejection and the ability to appeal same.
"This lawsuit could have been avoided had Sheriff Dickerson not enacted an unconstitutional, harmful policy that limited correspondence to and from detainees to postcards, and had he ensured that jail employees were properly trained as to the First Amendment and due process rights of both detainees and those who correspond with them," stated PLN editor Paul Wright. "Unfortunately he failed in both of these respects, and the court’s ruling is the result."
"The court’s well-reasoned and thoughtful opinion is notice to other jails that a postcard-only policy does not serve a legitimate purpose, and indeed harms the public interest. Jails would do well to steer clear of adopting ineffective policies that violate the Constitutional right of free speech," added attorney Jesse Wing, who represented PLN at trial.
PLN was represented by Marc D. Blackman with the Portland law firm of Ransom Blackman, LLP; Jesse Wing and Katie Chamberlain with the Seattle law firm of MacDonald Hoague and Bayless; and Human Rights Defense Center general counsel Lance Weber and staff attorney Alissa Hull. The case is Prison Legal News v. Columbia County, U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Case No. 3:12-cv-00071-SI.
The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990 and based in Brattleboro, Vermont, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has around 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.
For further information, please contact:
Paul Wright, Editor
Prison Legal News
(802) 257-1342 (office)
(802) 275-8594 (cell)
Jesse Wing, Attorney
MacDonald Hoague & Bayless
705 Second Avenue, Suite 1500
Seattle, WA 98104
(206) 622-1604 (office)