Jail Must Not Restrict Prisoners Access to Mail

     TACOMA, Wash. (CN) – The Lewis County Jail in western Washington can’t restrict prisoners’ access to their mail while a challenge to the lockup’s “postcards only” policy is being litigated, a federal judge ruled.
     Prison Legal News is a monthly newspaper published by the Washington-based Human Rights Defense Center, which advocates for prisoners’ rights.
     It prints information about the criminal justice system and legal issues relating to prison, and has been involved in a number of lawsuits involving prisoners’ rights to information.
     PLN mailed informational brochures to individual inmates in the Lewis County Jail in 2013, and the jail returned 45 pieces of mail, saying it had a policy of only accepting postcards.
     In April, PLN sued the jail, saying the policy violated the free speech of both prisoners and those trying to correspond with them. The newspaper sought an injunction enjoining the rule.
     The jail argued that it had a postcard-only policy, which has since been amended, and that the handling of the PLN mail was an employee that has since been corrected. Thus, the jail argued, the matter is moot.
     U.S. District Judge J. Richard Creatura rejected that argument, saying “it is clear that the jail’s policy of not following its policy does not negate a potential impact on PLN in the future.”
     “The postcard-only policy drastically reduces prisoners’ and other correspondents’ ability to communicate,” the judge wrote in a 27-page order. “It is more than a mere inconvenience and becomes a substantial barrier to First Amendment rights.”
     Finding that PLN met all the requirements needed, Creatura granted the newspaper’s injunction against the jail.
     The injunction prevents the jail from restricting incoming and outgoing mail to postcards only, and the jail cannot refuse to deliver or process mail that is in another form, such as a newspaper.
     “First Amendment rights are too important to be subject to such arbitrariness,” the judge wrote. “When it comes to access to news and information, prisoners and those who correspond with them should be afforded the opportunity to send and receive mail, and if mail is refused by the jail, [they] should receive notice and a fair and timely process for appealing the jail’s refusal to deliver the mail.”
     With the injunction, the jail must notify prisoners when it rejects mail sent to them or from them, and allow prisoners to appeal the rejection. The jail is also required to notify non-prisoners when their mail is rejected and tell them the procedure for appealing.

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