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WA county jail changes mail policy due to PLN suit against another jail

Statesman Journal, Jan. 1, 2012.
WA county jail changes mail policy due to PLN suit against another jail - Statesman Journal 2012

Jail changes mail policy to again accept letters

Recent ruling in federal case prompts revision of rule

7:45 AM, Jun 29, 2012

After a year and a half of allowing only postcards to be sent to inmates, the Marion County jail beginning today is reverting to a former policy of also allowing sealed envelopes.

A recent ruling in a federal case against the Columbia County jail dealing with a similar postcard policy has prompted Marion County officials to go back to allowing envelopes.

Although the court case does not specifically target or mention the Marion County jail, sheriff’s spokesman Don Thomson said Thursday that the policy change is a precaution.

In January 2010 the jail enacted the policy of accepting only postcards as a way to curb the amount of staff time spent processing the mail — taking up about nine hours a day and costing $55,000 to $60,000 a year to make sure the contents met the facility’s policy, according to officials.

The change, Thomson, resulted in a 50 percent cost reduction and a decreased risk of contraband entering the jail.

The federal court order dated May 29 states that Columbia County jail must go back to allowing envelopes to inmates until the case is resolved.

“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,” the court document reads.

The case was filed by Prison Legal News, a nonprofit publication based in Vermont that reports on prison issues throughout the country.

The nonprofit filed the complaint against the Columbia County jail after it had its April 2010 issue sent back with a notice of the policy changes. They claimed that the restrictions violated the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment by violating censorship and due process rights.

“We would prefer it to stay a post card system because it eases the burden of sorting mail,” Thomson said. He added that although there were some grumbles when the policy was first implemented in 2010, the change went smoothly and worked well.

Sealed envelopes containing no more than 10 written pages with no blank pages will be accepted by jail staff as of today.