Prisoners in El Paso County got an early Christmas present yesterday, when county officials agreed to stop limiting outgoing inmate mail to just postcards. The ACLU had filed suit against that policy, which the El Paso County Jail adopted this summer, arguing that such restrictions for prisoners who are awaiting trial --and have not been convicted of a crime -- was unconstitutional.
Facing a hearing in that case yesterday in U.S. District Court in Denver, El Paso County agreed to a preliminary injunction ending the postcard-only policy. So instead of holding the hearing, chief Judge Wiley Daniel signed the order.
"Today we celebrate a victory not only for the First Amendment, but for hundreds of Colorado families," said Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado legal director. "The El Paso County Jail's 'postcard-only' policy violated the rights of both prisoners and their correspondents. Incarcerated individuals will no longer be forced to avoid personal topics such as medical, financial or relationship issues simply because their words were in plain sight for anyone to read."
Among the prisoners affected was Damian Gonzales, whose mother said her eldest son's correspondence had decreased significantly because of the postcard-only policy. "Since the policy went into effect...our communications have been dramatically stifled," she stated in a recent court filing. "These postcards provide only a tiny fraction of the space he was once able to fill...It is impossible for Damian and I to remain as close we were when he was able to send letters...Damian no longer sends handmade cards or drawings to his...youngest siblings who cannot read, and for whom these drawings and cards were their most direct and loving form of communication with him."
The ACLU's national Prison Project was also involved in the case. "The El Paso County Jail did the right thing by abandoning this unconstitutional practice," said David Fathi, director of that project. "We hope that other jails with 'postcard-only' policies will do the same without waiting for litigation."
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The only other jail in Colorado with that policy is Boulder County Jail, which instituted postcard-only mail after sex offenders were trying to snag underage pen pals.
The ACLU filed suit against Boulder's policy in August; that case is pending.
Read more about Colorado crime issues here.