Letter to Santa Barbara County Sheriff Brown

March 8, 2013

Sheriff Bill Brown
Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department
4434 Calle Real
Santa Barbara, CA 93110

Dear Sheriff Brown

We, the undersigned state and national criminal justice policy and community organizations, write to express our concern about your intention to implement a new mail policy on Monday, March 11, 2013, that would ban family and community members from sending letters to the jail, restricting incoming mail to postcards only. We urge you to immediately cancel your plan to implement a postcard-only mail restriction.

As discussed in the Prison Policy Initiative report "Return to Sender: Postcard-only Mail Policies in Jail,"[1] jail postcard-only policies undermine public safety by straining the community ties that are essential for facilitating reentry and reducing recidivism. Furthermore, postcard-only policies place an undue burden on the disproportionately low-income families of people in jail. Social science research is unambiguous about the benefits of maintaining community ties during and after the period of incarceration, and major correctional and legal associations agree that contact with the outside community should be encouraged, not stifled.[2]

The vast majority of correctional and detention facilities handle mail security without resorting to dramatic postcards restrictions. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 2011 National Detention Standards specifically prohibit postcard restrictions in any facility that holds immigration detainees.[3] A spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told a reporter why his system would not even consider implementing a postcard-only policy: “We believe the mail coming to inmates is as important as their phone calls. If we were to limit the mail, we believe we would see a rise in mental challenges, maybe even violence."[4]

We urge you to immediately cancel implementation of this policy, and prioritize studying three questions:

  1. Do the county's anticipated benefits from the postcard-only policy outweigh the costs of increasing recidivism and interfering with the First Amendment rights of people in jail and their loved ones?
  2. Have you given adequate notice to the public of this change in policy? We note that as of the morning of March 7, 2013, your website does not mention the new policy and actually states that letters are permitted. Further, based on the Prison Policy Initiative’s experience on March 6, it appears that your office is not honoring requests from the public for copies of your proposed policy.
  3. Would the postcard-only policy jeopardize any current or future contracts with the county to hold Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees? We note that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's updated 2011 National Detention Standards specifically include a new stipulation that "[f]acilities shall not limit detainees to postcards and shall allow envelope mailings."[5]

We trust that you will give this matter careful consideration.


A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing)

Alabama CURE

Americans for Immigrant Justice, formerly Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center

Anahola Homesteaders Council (AHC)

Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility

Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB)

Campaign for Youth Justice

Casa Esperanza

CLUE (Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice) Santa Barbara

Colorado CURE

Conservatives for Social Change

Creative Empowerment NFP

Crossroad Bible Institute

Families & Allies of Virginia's Youth

Human Rights Defense Center

Insight Prison Project

Integrated Justice Alliance c/o NJISJ

Interfaith Coalition on Immigration (ICOM, MN)

International CURE

Johnson & Brennan, PLLC

Justice for Families

Justice Now

Justice Strategies

Law Offices of James W. Whitehouse

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children

Media Literacy Project

National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild

National Police Accountability Project, Inc.

New Mexico CURE

New York Law Collective

Northern New Jersey AEC Prison Ministry Federation

Picture Projects, Inc.

Prison Action Network

Prison Families Anonymous

Prison Grievances

Prison Policy Initiative

Prisoners Are People, Too, Inc.

Social Action Committee/Delta Upsilon, OPP

Social Justice Law Collective, PL

Southern Center for Human Rights

Statewide Poverty Action Network


Tamms Year Ten

Texas Jail Project

The Aleph Institute

The Center for Church and Prison, Inc.

The Lionheart Foundation

The Real Cost of Prisons Project

The Reformed Church of Highland Park

The Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara

United Church of Christ/Justice and Witness Ministries

Voters Legislative Transparency Project

Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH)

Women Who Never Give Up

Working Narratives



[1]Leah Sakala, Return to Sender: Postcard-only Mail Policies in Jail (Easthampton, MA: Prison Policy Initiative, 2013). Available at: www.prisonpolicy.org/postcards/.

[2] See, for example, American Correctional Association, Public Correctional Policy on Reentry of Offenders, resolution 2001-3, passed August 15, 2001, reviewed and amended Aug. 16, 2006 and August 6, 2011. Published in American Correctional Association, Public Correctional Policies 2012, 79. (Accessed November 4, 2012 from: https://www.aca.org/government/policyresolution/PDFs/Public_Correctional_Policies.pdf); American Jail Association, Adult/Juvenile Offender Access to Telephones resolution, adopted May 3, 2008. (Accessed November 4, 2012 from: http://www.aca.org/government/policyresolution/view.asp?ID=2&printview=1 ); American Bar Association, Standard 23-8.6 Written communications, ABA Standards for Criminal Justice: Treatment of Prisoners, 3rd edition, (Washington D.C.: American Bar Association, 2011), 266; Council of State Governments, Reentry Policy Council, Policy Statement 13 in Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council: Charting the Safe and Successful Return of Prisoners to the Community (New York: Council of State Governments, January 2005). (Accessed January 4, 2013 from: http://www.reentrypolicy.org/Report/PartII/ChapterII-B/PolicyStatement13/ ).

[3] Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 5.1 Correspondence and Other Mail in 2011 Operations Manual ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2011), 276.

[4] Steve Whitmore, quoted in Associated Press, Ventura County jail limits inmates to postcards, Ventura County Star, September 24, 2010. (Accessed October 20, 2012 from: http://www.vcstar.com/news/2010/sep/24/ventura-county-jail-limits-inmates-to-postcards/.)

[5] Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 276.

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