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
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.
Coverage of our work
- Newton County Jail to begin postcard-only policy for incoming mail, by Rayna Karst, The Joplin Globe, August 18, 2018
- Writing behind bars: Postcard-only mailing policies in jails are unjust, ineffective, by Mia Armstrong, The State Press, September 23, 2016
- Jail letter ban should be reconsidered, letter to the editor by Leah Sakala, Cecil Whig, March 16, 2015
- Postcard-only jail mail policy should be canceled, letter to the editor by Peter Wagner, Ionia Sentinel-Standard (Michigan), September 26, 2014
- Agreement Reached Ending Unconstitutional Postcard-Only Mail Policy at Flagler County Jail, ACLU of Florida press release, May 1, 2014
- ACLU challenges Wyandotte County Jail's postcard-only policy for inmates, by Mark Morris, Kansas City Star, October 1, 2013
- Community Activists Cite Civil Rights Concerns with Jail Mail Policy Changes, by Jennifer Wadsworth, San Jose Inside, July 17, 2013
- Don't limit inmates to postcards, Leah Sakala, letter to the editor in the Sun Herald (Gulfport, Mississippi), June 12, 2013
- All mail at Santa Clara County jail to be limited to small postcards, by Tracey Kaplan, Mercury News, May 18, 2013
- Return to Sender, Leah Sakala, letter to the editor printed in The Independent, March 8, 2013