Incoming mail for inmates in the Missouri Newton County Jail will be limited to postcards starting Oct. 11, reports the Joplin Globe. The change is meant to decrease the time spent inspecting envelopes for contraband, but inmates and their loved ones say that it restricts their ability to communicate.
Newton County Sheriff Chris Jennings acknowledged the “inconvenience” the policy might cause but said that the action was in line with developments in other county jails in the region, according to correctionsone.com.
“We have to remove anything with glue, like stamps, because they will try to bring drugs in behind the stamps or stuck to the glue. With postcards, that’s not an issue. We don’t have to search for other contraband and make sure there’s nothing else in there,” Jennings told the Globe. Around 100 people are housed in Newton County Jail at any given time, and the hundreds of envelopes they receive in a week have to be searched.
Until now, pending legal disputes kept officials from initiating the new policy. One lawsuit, filed by Cheryl Simpson, alleged a 14th Amendment violation as the new mail policy limited her communications with her son, who was an inmate in the Cape Cirardeau County jail. She would frequently send her son long letters, often a couple of double-sided pages, inside an envelope with a single stamp. The equivalent correspondence under the new policy would require 40 post cards with postage paid on each one, totaling around $15.
“The content of Ms. Simpson’s written correspondence is quantitatively less and substantively different than it would be had the policy not changed, which is a real infringement of her constitutionally protected right to communicate with her son,” said Tony Rothert of the ACLU of Missouri, which represented Simpson in court.
Simpson was denied relief by both the district court and also the Court of Appeals for the Eighth District, which found that the policy didn’t violate her constitutional rights.
Newton County policy states that the postcard can be no larger than 5 inches by 7 inches—a standard postcard. Any envelopes, other than legal correspondence, received after the effective date will be returned to sender, and all funds will have to be electronically wired through an online system or brought directly to the jail’s lobby. Inmates will still be able to send outgoing mail in envelopes.
“The prisoners are also notified the minute they come into our jail of our policies,” Sheriff Jennings said. “They can tell their family or friends.”
Brad DeLay, sheriff of Lawrence County, which has had the policy in place for almost a decade, says inmates and families were only upset for the first year or so. Since then, the policy has “worked wonders.”
“The contraband has dropped significantly—obviously you can’t hide anything in a postcard—and it saves jailers a lot of time having to dig through a lot of mail making sure that there’s not any contraband,” he said to the Globe reporter. “It’s been a huge benefit for us.”