Starting September 1, the Hillsborough County jail in Florida will not allow the county’s inmates to receive letters, unless sent from an inmate’s attorney. All other letters will be returned to the sender. Inmate’s families and friends can only send postcards. The jail officials conceded that most inmates and their families have complied with the law when sending letters. There was a small number of letters mailed to inmates which carried contraband, including drugs hidden under stamps, lewd photos, and other items that violated the law or regulations for sending mail to inmates. The prisoners will be allowed to send letters.
The jail claimed security was the reason for the new postcard policy. There were letters to gang members written in code. Three letters carried white powder which required the closing of the mail room to rule out hazardous materials.
On the flip side of this issue, most prisons and jails have allowed inmates to receive letters. The majority of incoming letters are just messages from home. A recent batch of mail to this Florida county jail revealed, “a stack of papers with bubble-letter font addressed to Tyree (with a heart). A kid’s crayon drawing of a mom, a dad and two children. ‘We love you,’ it read. A black-and-white sonogram photo.”
It is recognized that 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 communications. There were several unsuccessful lawsuits which claimed this mailing restriction violated the rights of the inmates.
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 Hillsborough jail had three civilian employees who checked all of the incoming mail. It can be argued that the postcard policy was not about security, but rather about saving time and money at the cost of the inmate’s welfare. Thousands of other prisons and jails have continued to allow inmates to receive letters from family and friends.