PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – A federal judge ruled that an Oregon county jail unconstitutionally prohibited inmates from receiving any mail except postcards.
Prison Legal News sued Columbia County and its Sheriff’s Office this year, claiming the jail’s mail policy was unconstitutional.
Brattleboro, Vt.-based Prison Legal News, a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, distributes legal information packets to prisoners, and a monthly magazine.
The magazine covers topics such as “prison conditions, excessive force, mail censorship, and jail litigation,” according to the group’s website.
In March 2010, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office instituted a “postcard only” mail policy. Prison Legal News then claimed that the jail returned or failed to deliver dozens of publications sent to inmates.
U.S. District Judge Michael Simon this week found that the sheriff violated the Constitution.
Judge Simon balked at the idea that inmates and their correspondents could speak only through visits, calls or postcards.
“The … postcard-only mail policy drastically restricts an inmate’s ability to communicate with the outside world,” the judge wrote. “It 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. … It prevents educational, community, and religious organizations from sending lessons, book and periodical offers, and fund-raining appeals. … Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the postcard-only mail policy creates a hurdle to thoughtful and constructive written communication between an inmate and his or her unincarcerated family and friends.”
Simon also found the defendants could not prove a rational link between the mail policy and reducing contraband.
“Defendants have failed to offer evidence or even an intuitive, common-sense reason why the postcard-only mail policy more effectively prevents the introduction of contraband than opening and inspecting letters,” the judge wrote.
He declined to grant an injunction to Prison Legal News on its due process claim, but granted it for the free-speech claim.