Facing a class-action suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and the ACLU National Prison Project, the Boulder County Jail has agreed to a settlement, ending a policy that restricted most inmates’ outgoing mail to post-cards only.

Prisoners at the jail – many of whom are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of any crime – will once again be permitted to send letters in sealed envelopes to their children, family members, loved ones and friends. The settlement, reached on Friday, is detailed in a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the parties.

Faced with a similar lawsuit from the ACLU of Colorado, the El Paso County Jail ended its post card-only prisoner mail policy in December. El Paso and Boulder County adopted the policies in 2010 and the lawsuits followed soon afterwards.

“Incarcerated individuals will no longer be forced to avoid personal topics such as medical, financial or relationship issues simply because their words are in plain sight for anyone to read,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “They will no longer have to guard against communications that they do not wish their children to see. They now can communicate with art and drawings or seek the advice of their clergy without having to expose that to the world.”

The ACLU of Colorado’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of five individual prisoners who represent a class of current and future prisoners subject to the policy. Chief Judge Wiley Y. Daniel granted the lawsuit class-action status March 8.

The settlement agreement ending the policy calls for an official change within 21 days of the filing of the Memorandum of Understanding.

Specifically --

  • Inmates will now be allowed to write and send personal letters on paper provided by the jail and with envelopes supplied by the jail – without having to receive special permission to do so.
  • Postcards will be used by inmates only on a voluntary basis, if at all.
  • The jail must notify attorneys for the ACLU of Colorado if it plans any changes to the outgoing inmate mail policy anytime within the next two years.

The settlement agreement is expected to be approved by the Board of County Commissioners at its next meeting.

“Writing letters to people in the free world is critical for helping prisoners maintain ties to their families and communities and ensuring their successful reintegration upon release,” said David Fathi, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “Enacting policies that significantly restrict the First Amendment freedoms of all current and future pre-trial detainees and prisoners in the jail was both unwise and unconstitutional. We are pleased to see it end and trust that this will embolden others to challenge similar policies wherever they may crop up across the country.”

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