ACLU-MO Challenges Jail’s Postcard-Only Policy in Federal Court

Affiliate: ACLU of Missouri
February 3, 2014 12:00 am

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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation (ACLU-MO) filed a lawsuit against Cape Girardeau County challenging the constitutionality of its recently implemented postcard-only policy for family and friends writing jail inmates.

The ACLU-MO represents Cheryl Simpson, who, prior to the jail policy, would regularly send her son two and three-page double-sided letters. Under the new policy, she would need to use over 40 postcards (costing over $15.00 in postage) to communicate the same information she could send in one envelope with a 49¢ stamp. Additionally, she can no longer send her son pictures and other documents.

This policy severely restricts the free speech rights of friends and family who desire to stay connected with inmates, many of whom are awaiting trial and presumed innocent. "The content of Ms. Simpson’s written correspondence is quantitatively less, and substantively different, than it would be had the policy not changed, which is a real infringement of her constitutionally protected right to communicate with her son," said Tony Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU of Missouri.

Communication through mail is often the only practical form of communication available to inmates. Often, family members live far away and cannot visit regularly. Moreover, telephone calls from the jail are very expensive and in-person visits are limited. These barriers make it all the more essential that friends and family members be allowed to correspond with inmates through regular letters and not be limited to sending and receiving postcards.

"Writing private letters is important to friends and families of inmates because it allows them to stay connected and to express – at length and in detail – their private concerns about family relationships, health problems, and financial issues, and reintegration – such as employment and education – after an inmate’s release from jail," said Jeffrey A. Mittman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Missouri.

The ACLU of Missouri is seeking a court order preventing Cape Girardeau County from returning all-mail that is not on postcards. Last year a federal court in Oregon found Columbia County’s similar policy unconstitutional. The jail in Jefferson County, Arkansas also recently rescinded its postcard-only policy.

The court’s order can be found on the ACLU-MO website.

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