Sheriff Can’t Restrict Prisoners’ Mail

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – The Ventura County Sheriff cannot limit jail inmates’ mail to postcards, a federal judge ruled.
     Prison Legal News, a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, sued Ventura County and its Sheriff Geoff Dean in January, claiming that a jail policy that allowed inmates to receive and send only postcards violated the First Amendment.
     The county adopted the postcard-only policy in October 2010 to “reduce the risks to the security of our jails and increase the efficient flow of mail to inmates,” it said at the time.
     The county claimed that contraband had been sent to its jails in envelopes, and that inmates were sending coded information about gang intelligence and criminal activity within innocent-looking letters.
     Prison Legal News, which publishes a monthly newsletter, claimed that the county’s policy unconstitutionally restricted its distribution and correspondence mailed to prisoners and pre-trial detainees.
     U.S. District Court Judge George King on Sept. 4 approved a settlement between the county and Prison Legal News that will end the postcard-only policy.
     The county can no longer refuse to deliver correspondence, catalogs or subscription order forms to inmates, cannot refuse to deliver materials that were Xeroxed, photocopied or printed from the Internet, and cannot prohibit inmates from ordering books, magazines or other publications.
     Inmates will be allowed to receive copies of publications that contain sexually suggestive content unless “the publications contain images of fully exposed genitalia, buttocks or female breasts and/or graphic depictions of sexual acts,” according to the ruling.
     The county must provide written notice to both the inmate and the sender if mail is deemed nondeliverable, and provide both parties an opportunity to appeal.
     As part of the settlement, the county agreed to pay Prison Legal News $350,000 for damages, costs and fees.
     Prison Legal News was represented by Ernest Galvan, with Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld of San Francisco, by Brian Vogel of Ventura, and by its staff attorney Lance Weber, of Lake Worth, Fla.

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