In August of 2013, prisonpath.com posted an article about prisons and jails that forbid letters to inmates, but will allow only postcards. The Hillsborough County jail, in Florida, started their restriction in September of 2013. In 2010, a federal judge in Tampa upheld the postcard rule in another Florida county. The court held that “lawful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights.” The court stated that the inmate’s constitutional rights must be weighed against the need for order and security.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation filed a lawsuit last week against Cape Girardeau County, challenging the constitutionality of the postcard-only policy for family and friends of inmates.
The ACLU-MO represents Cheryl Simpson, who 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 send the same personal information she would send in one envelope with a 49¢ stamp to her son.
A major key to successful rehabilitation has always involved maintaining close family ties for the inmates. In order to have a successful family unit, you need communication. Many families do not have the funds to travel to the prison or jail that is incarcerating their family member. Private letters connect the inmate to the outside world. Letters allow the discussion of family relationships, financial problems, health issues, and the eventual re-entry into society.
The prisons and jails that have only post card policies argue that such restrictions prevent the smuggling of contraband and coded communications between gang members. Such arguments are weak since all envelopes addressed to inmates are opened by correctional officers in other prisons and jails and certainly gang members can use code on postcards as well as letters.
A postcard-only policy impairs the chance for successful rehabilitation of an inmate. In 2013, a federal court in Oregon found Columbia County’s similar policy unconstitutional.