South Florida Jail’s Mail Policy May Be Unconstitutional

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — A federal lawsuit filed against St. Lucie County Jail in Fort Pierce will challenge the facility’s mail policy for inmates.

The jail’s current policy, implemented in 2010 as a security precaution, requires that all incoming and outgoing mail must fit on a postcard-size letter. Legitimate legal or privileged mail — including mail from attorneys, courts and public officials — is excluded from this policy. Postcards with computer-generated pictures printed on them are also allowed. They are required to be a minimum of 3.5-inches wide and no larger than six inches long.

Postcards will be returned to the sender or to the U.S. post office if they are deemed sexually graphic, sexually explicit and/or contain obscene gestures; if they have photos or stickers attached to them; or if they are soiled with perfume, lipstick, crayon or marker. According to the jail’s policy, unauthorized items (books, excess clothing or hygiene products) are not accepted through the mail. Inmates can request religious reading material from the facility’s chaplain services and leisure reading material from the jail library.
The lawsuit states that the jail’s policy is unconstitutional — limiting inmates’ first amendment rights, as reported by The Denver Channel — and was filed against St. Lucie County Sheriff Kenneth J. Mascara in early December.

Prison Legal News, which reports stories that cover the criminal justice system, is the publication behind the lawsuit, mainly because the jail policy prevents the publication’s monthly newsletter from being distributed. The publication was started in the 1990s from the Washington state jail cell of Paul Wright, who served 17 years after killing a man during a robbery. Wright is also the founder and executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center.

Randy Berg, the attorney for Prison Legal News, has represented Prison Legal News in similar cases in the past — most recently in three other Florida counties: Flagler, Okaloosa and Manatee. Currently, federally and most state-run correctional facilities do not have policies like this. According to The Denver Channel, about 20 counties of the 67 in Florida have similar policies.

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