Nonprofit Partners Sue over Prison Mail Policy

  • Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

This September, a new mail policy was implemented in Pennsylvania state prisons: all mail sent to prisoners is now photocopied, and the original is kept by the Department of Corrections. The goal of this unprecedented policy is to prevent corrections officers from getting sick due to exposure to dangerous drugs.

However, our nonprofit partner ACLU-PA argues that the policy violates the First Amendment right of freedom of speech. ACLU-PA also cites that the policy interferes with the confidentiality of communication between attorney and client.

This October, ACLU-PA, joined by organizations like our nonprofit partner Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, filed a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. The lawsuit seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction to stop the DOC from copying legal mail and retaining the originals. 

Sara Rose, a senior staff attorney at ACLU-PA, told Public News Service, that “Retaining opened mail outside of a prisoner's presence violates the First Amendment because it chills their expression by making them concerned about whether the communications with their attorneys will be kept confidential.”

ACLU-PA attorney Keith Whitson affirmed that since the policy went into effect, prisoners have been advised not to correspond with their attorneys through the mail. "Instead, attorneys have been forced to travel all over the state to meet with their clients personally each time they need to discuss anything,” he states. “These are nonprofit organizations that do not have the staff and resources to continue in-person visits for all such communications."

Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, an attorney at the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, told her Philadelphia Inquirer that her organization works with people who are held in DOC facilities throughout the state. But since this policy went into effect, her firm has been unable to communicate with many incarcerated clients.

Learn more about the lawsuit in the full article on Jurist.