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February 23, 2015
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Kansas District Court Ends Wyandotte County Jail’s “Postcard-Only” Mail Policy
KANSAS CITY, KANSAS - United States District Judge Eric F. Melgren signed an order today reversing the Wyandotte County Jail’s “postcard-only” mail policy and ordering the Jail to again allow inmates to exchange letters through the U.S. Mail – the result of a legal challenge to the policy brought by the ACLU of Kansas and the Social Justice Law Collective (SJLC).
Judge Melgren’s ruling approves an agreement between Jail inmates and the Wyandotte County Sheriff. According to the Court’s order, inmates in the Wyandotte County Jail will now be able to send an unlimited number of regular letters to friends and family members outside the Jail. The Sheriff, who retains the ability to restrict the length of letters in certain circumstances, must also now provide free writing materials to indigent inmates. The Sheriff has also agreed to pay $25,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs to the ACLU and SJLC for their efforts in securing the judgment.
“Today’s reversal of the Wyandotte County Jail’s ‘postcard-only’ mail policy is a clear sign that unnecessary restrictions on the free speech rights of incarcerated individuals are illegal,” said Joshua Glickman, Founding Member Attorney of the Social Justice Law Collective, “the Wyandotte County Jail now joins the vast majority of Kansas jails which operate safe and secure facilities without the need to drastically curtail the ability of inmates to correspond with family, friends, and loved ones.”
The ACLU of Kansas and SJLC filed the federal class action lawsuit in October 2013, alleging that the Wyandotte County Jail’s “postcard-only” mail policy violated the constitutional rights of inmates and their friends and families to communicate with one another. Given the typical distance between inmates and their families, as well as the prohibitive cost of telephone calls and in-person visits, the ACLU and SJLC argued that the Jail’s restrictive correspondence policies not only prevented inmates from privately corresponding with loved ones, but also hindered inmates’ ability to successfully re-integrate into their communities upon release.
“It’s a significant victory for the ability of incarcerated individuals to exercise their right to speak without undue government interference – a right these individuals retain even in Jail,” said Doug Bonney, Legal Director for the ACLU of Kansas, “in approving the parties’ agreement, the Court has made it clear that jail and prison rules that stifle free speech will not be permitted.”