Ruth: Mail policy is working
by GREG KAYLOR, Banner Staff Writer
May 12, 2013 | 664 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A federal judge in Oregon ruled recently that limiting jail inmate mail is unconstitutional.

Bradley County Jail recently adopted a policy that only postcards can be mailed to inmates and certain other criteria regarding mail service were also put into place.

According to Sheriff Jim Ruth, any legal mail from attorneys representing jailed clients can still be sent in a conventional envelope.

“Our change had to do with a drug problem and drugs getting into the jail through the mail,” Ruth said.

According to an Associated Press report, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon recently issued an injunction regarding a case at the Columbia County Jail in Portland.

The jail had restricted inmate mail to “the sending and receiving of postcards.”

His ruling cited it was unconstitutional because it violated the “First Amendment rights of inmates, the people who write them, and the plaintiff,” a monthly national law journal published by the Vermont-based Human Rights Defense Center.

The AP article noted the Columbia County Jail instituted the measure and “had no such reasoning,” — prohibiting legal documents sent by family members and other mail such as bills that needed payment.

“Sometimes contraband isn’t easy to spot,” Ruth said.

“We checked with Tennessee Corrections Institute before we changed the jail mail policy and they said it was OK,” Ruth added.

“The jail out West had no reason to change, therefore it may have been unconstitutional for them to restrict inmate mail to postcards,” Ruth said.

According to earlier reports, narcotics in powder form can be hidden in envelopes, under stamps and by other means.

According to Gwen Beavers of the Bradley County Jail Corrections Bureau, some letters in envelopes can be sent, but they have to be postmarked the first and seventh of each month.

Beavers said any other personal mail can be sent at any time on a standard-size postcard, which is 5.5 by 8.5 inches.

“We decided to go with postcards for the security and safety issues,” Beavers said, citing the fact that contraband can slip through in an envelope to inmates.

“Pills can be crushed into powder form and could be [overlooked] during screening,” Beavers said.

“The change doesn’t affect legal mail such as letters from attorneys or the courts,” she added.

According to information provided by jail officials, postcards must have the inmate’s name, sender name and return address.

“Postcards that have items pasted or attached, or have been altered in any form will be rejected and returned to sender. The only exception to the postcard procedure for personal inmate mail will be the standard–size envelopes containing appropriate personal photos with maximum dimensions of 4.5 x 9.5 inches postmarked the 1st and 7th of each month,” according to the information.

Again, any items pasted or attached to envelopes, or containing additional items of any kind will be rejected and returned to the sender.

Ruth said a number of Tennessee jails have similar policies.

Ruth said the jail received a few complaint calls after the announcement was made but after further explanation, he said the new policy is working well.