Tennessee jailers accused of keeping mail sent to prisoners: Is that legal?

Prison Legal News says at least 147 items sent to prisoners by the advocacy group were not delivered because they were not on postcards.

A prisoners’ rights advocacy group says a Tennessee county is requiring inmates to send and receive postcards instead of letters, effectively censoring their mail.

Prison Legal News filed a lawsuit on Tuesday to put a stop to the postcard requirement. They cite at least 147 items the nonprofit group sent to inmates since November of 2014 as having been censored.

Jail policy is that all personal mail to inmates must be on standard postcards with preprinted stamps. The group is also seeking a temporary court order to stop the policy as the case is taken through the courts.

This mail censorship lawsuit is the latest example of a national push for prison reform spurred by an unprecedented swelling of the number of people incarcerated in US jails and prisons and reports of mistreatment of inmates.

The rate of incarceration in the United States – the highest in the world – has prompted legislators on both sides of the aisle to reexamine mandatory minimum sentences.

“There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential,” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and conservative activist Pat Nolan wrote in 2011. “The criminal-justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it."

But equally salient in recent years, has been the issue of prisoner rights.

In March, a photo surfaced from the Burruss Correctional Training Center in Forsyth, Ga., that some compared to Abu Ghraib torture pictures. In the image, three shirtless African-American prisoners are standing in a mirror. One of them points his fingers, like a gun, at the camera, another holds a makeshift leash, and the third is on his knees with the leash around his neck, his eyes swollen from a beating.

Action in response to the photo was immediate, with the victim in the image placed in protective custody. The incident provided a graphic lens into how prisoners treat each other. However, it also highlighted many flaws in the prison system. None of the guards heard the mass beating and a crackdown on contraband revealed many cellphones among prisoners.

Other prison protocols regarding the treatment of inmates have recently been called into question. 

In September, California settled a lawsuit to end its controversial practice of indefinite solitary confinement of former gang leaders. The lawsuit was in response to a class-action federal lawsuit filed on behalf of nearly 3,000 inmates.

The situations that arose in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, around the way police treat black suspects have also highlighted the popular pressure for criminal justice reform. And the White House and Congress are listening.

House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio said in July, “We’ve got a lot of people in prison, frankly, that… really don’t need to be there.”

Lawmakers are hopeful that a bipartisan legislation aimed at reforming prisons and sentencing will pass by the end of the year. In the meantime, the Justice Department has ordered the release of 6,000 low-level offenders.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.