I need your help. I co-founded the Prison Policy Initiative to put the problem of mass incarceration — and the perverse incentives that fuel it — on the national agenda. Over the last 17 years, our campaigns have protected our democracy from the prison system and protected the poorest families in this country from the predatory prison telephone industry. Our reports untangle the statistics and recruit new allies.

But now, more than ever, we need your help to put data & compassion into the conversation.

Thank you.
—Peter Wagner, Executive DirectorDonate

Fighting sheriffs who want to restrict jail mail

Some jails around the country have implemented cruel policies that limit the personal mail people can receive to postcards. Letters are vital for people behind bars to preserve ties to their families and communities, and postcards are no substitute: They provide no privacy or room to attach important documents.

To support the fight against harmful letter bans, we’ve released two major reports, which highlight the importance of written communication and identify the state agencies responsible for keeping jail mail policies fair.

The good news is that letter bans aren’t irreversible. Federal judges in Oregon and Kansas have ruled postcard-only policies unconstitutional, and advocates have convinced many sheriffs to change course and restore letters.


Research and resources

Video explainer



Other resources for taking action

  • Resources from our victory in Santa Barbara County: In March 2013, we joined over 50 other organizations in sending a letter to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff, urging him to halt the jail's new postcard-only mail policy. The residents of Santa Clara held a forum protesting the new policy. Five months later, the sheriff announced he was scrapping the plan to ban letters, and the policy officially ended in September 2014.
  • A letter from the ACLU of Northern California to the Sacramento County Sheriff expresses opposition to a proposed postcard-only policy in the county.
  • A letter from the ACLU of Maryland to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services in response to a proposed ban on letters to people incarcerated in state facilities.
  • Special Populations and the Importance of Oversight, a study by Michele Deitch that identifies the state-level entities responsible for overseeing local jails in each state.
  • Prison Legal News, a monthly news magazine reporting on prisoners' rights, has successfully challenged postcard-only policies in multiple jails.

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