Monday, December 13, 2010

Postcards from the hoosegow

Posted By on Mon, Dec 13, 2010 at 12:56 PM

A lawsuit filed by Ismael Omar on Dec. 8 in U.S. District Court joins complaints that a recent policy shift at El Paso County's detention center violates the 1st and 4th Amendment rights of the inmates.

The policy, put in place in August, denies inmates the right to use envelopes for all personal correspondence. Instead, they are required to use postcards purchased from the jail at 50 cents a pop. The use of envelopes is still permitted for legal mail.

Sheriff Terry Maketa told us that his decision to implement the mail policy was mostly based financial concerns. Managing and monitoring all of the mail produced by the county's 1,400 inmates, he said, is a costly and time-consuming task. The postcard system will "save the jail $5,000 a year in supply costs alone." Plus, it will reduce the risk of inmates sending "inappropriate" mail, ""threatening witnesses or even communicating with other inmates."

Maketa pointed out that this is the same policy that was put in place in Boulder County, ostensibly in response to a couple sex offenders sending letters to children.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit against Boulder challenging the constitutionality of the postcard policy, and later filed a suit against Maketa as well.

"This postcard-only policy severely restricts prisoners' ability to communicate with their parents, children, spouses, domestic partners, sweethearts, friends or almost anyone else who does not fall within the jail's narrow exception to the newly imposed ban on outgoing letters,” the ACLU’s Mark Silverstein said at the time. “This unjustified restriction on written communications violates the rights of both the prisoners and their correspondents."

According to Omar, "free discussion is crucial to my rehabilitation, and my rehabilitation is crucial to me being a respected, useful, law-abiding member of society." From his complaint:

As there has been no alleged or reported abuse of my First Amendment right on my behalf, nor has there been any complaint made by any intended recipient of my correstpondance [sic]; and the use of paper and an envelope for outgoing personal correspondence does not interfere with the order and security of the facility or my rehabilitation, there is no need for this procedural change for the change is greater than necessary to protect any particular government interest.

The ACLU will be back in federal court in Denver at 10 a.m. on the 22nd of this month for a hearing on their motion for a preliminary injunction, in the suit against Maketa. You can read the complaint, in which the ACLU is representing a number of plaintiffs, here:

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