Confirmed victory
Petitioning Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle and 3 others

Tell Boulder County To Allow Inmate Letters

When you think postcards you typically think of them originating from an island destination or family vacation. Rarely would you think of jail as an appropriate send-off spot for these small cards. But that's exactly what inmates at the Boulder County Jail are sending out. No, this has nothing to do with them fondly discussing their "time away" to family and friends; the postcards aren't some glossy souvenir shop item selected for photos of the chow line or cell on the front. Instead, this is a new "security measure" enacted by jail administrators--a measure that has led to a lawsuit by the ACLU and a measure that needs changing.

Inmates at the Boulder County Jail are allowed to send one postcard per day, five days per week from the jail. This is in contrast to the prior policy which allowed one three-page letter per day. The difference here isn't necessarily the length of the correspondence but the privacy of it. Inmates are far less likely to talk about their medical problems, marital issues, or private matters when they know anyone can read their postcard. An inmate struggling with disease, for instance, could be ostracized and even harmed if another happened to see his personal postcard on its way out of the cellblock. Likewise, a child could read about the horrors their father is experiencing in jail when the postcard is intercepted at the mailbox before reaching mom. Mail has traditionally allowed prisoners to communicate with those closest to them in a private manner that isn't afforded to them in visits or phone calls. For many, these letters are their sanity.

Division Chief Larry Hank of the Boulder County Jail changed the policy after two sex offenders were able to conceal letters to children within envelopes heading out to third party recipients. While this was a troublesome rule violation, it was something that should've been caught by jail personnel.

Mail rooms at jails and prisons across the country are tasked with checking incoming and outgoing mail for contraband before allowing them to pass to the other side of the institutional walls. While officials aren't allowed to read the mail, they can see if an inmate has concealed other letters within the primary correspondence. Trained jail staff can even spot code or gang writings disguised within drawings and within the letter text, another concern of Boulder Jail administrators. In other words, had jail personnel in the Boulder County jail been reviewing the mail like so many other mail rooms do, this initial mistake wouldn't have been made and they wouldn't be facing a lawsuit now.

Correctional administrators can only restrict the rights of inmates when it is in the interest of institutional security. Because mail security is controlled in far less restrictive manners at other correctional institutions, there seems to be no reason for this new rule within Boulder County. Even if the slight savings in postage is motivation for the rule, my guess is that inmates would be willing to sacrifice some of the cost to regain their privacy. 

This isn't about affording inmates special rights or allowing them to contact restricted parties outside prison walls--this is about human decency and affording inmates the ability to have a private correspondence with their loved ones. Join us in pleading with Boulder County officials to change their policy. Their argument of jail security is weak at best and the rule does little more than further institutionalize the people in their custody--people that will one day return to our communities. 

Photo Credit: fotologic



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