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Flagler Sheriff Bans Inmates From Writing Or Receiving Personal Mail Other Than Postcards

| January 6, 2011

Not anymore: that sort of letter, written from a Brevard County jail, will not be allowed in or out of the Flagler jail. (© Marcella Marie)

Beginning Jan. 15, the Flagler County Sheriff is banning all incoming or outgoing personal letters of any size to or from inmates at the county jail. Only metered postcards no smaller or larger than index cards will be allowed as means of written communication. No picture postcards will be allowed either way, so the ban will also mean that family or friends’ personal photographs can no longer be sent in by mail. The policy doesn’t apply to newspapers, magazines, religious or legal materials, though those materials must also comply with a set of restrictions.

Flagler is adopting a policy already enacted in a handful of counties in the last year, including Pasco, Manatee, Lee, Alachua and Santa Rosa. But the draconian policy, while gaining favor in Florida, remains extremely rare in the country. The ACLU of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute filed a class-action lawsuit against the Santa Rosa County Sheriff in September, challenging the constitutionality of the ban there. Two weeks ago, a federal judge suspended a similar policy in El Paso County, Colo., after the ACLU filed suit. The sheriff there then restored inmates’ rights to unlimited written correspondence.


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Many of the of the inmates in jail have not been adjudicated and are presumed (or supposed to be presumed) innocent. Yet Flagler’s and other Florida counties’ policies are considerably more restrictive than those of the Florida Department of Corrections or the Federal Bureau of Prisons, both of which allow written mail of unlimited pages in envelopes, and most of whose inmates have been found guilty and are serving sentences for crimes far more violent or serious than the overwhelming majority of inmates in county jails, including those serving a sentence. The federal policy explicitly “encourages inmates to write to family, friends, and other community contacts to maintain these ties during incarceration,” and allows text-only email.  Had a policy like Flagler’s been in place in local jails in Alabama in 1963, Martin Luther King would not have been allowed to mail his celebrated and influential Letter from Birmingham Jail, written in a single day in April that year from his jail cell, as a justification of civil disobedience against arbitrary and unjust laws. Three periodicals published the letter soon after it was mailed.

Details as to why the Flagler County jail was imposing the new policy were scant on Thursday. The Sheriff’s Office announced the policy in a news release. “The change will free up staff time that otherwise would be used to screen the incoming and outgoing mail,” jail Director Becky Quintieri was quoted as saying in the release. “It also makes the mail more secure.”

Postcards must be no smaller than 3 ½ by 5 ½ inches and no larger than 4 ¼ by 6 inches (the two standard sizes of index cards). Stamped cards will be rejected. Incoming postcards must be clearly addressed with the inmate’s name and booking number and may only be delivered by the U.S. Post Office or a commercially licensed mail carrier (a restriction similar to those that apply in state and federal prisons). There is no limit on the number of postcards inmates may send or receive, though beyond the two weekly pre-paid postcards provided to inmates who can’t afford them, inmates must buy their own.

Speaking late Thursday on the origin of the new policy, Sheriff’s Spokeswoman Debbie Johnson said there had been some cases of contraband being brought in through the mail, though the move was just as much to save on staff time, she said. “They’re still going to have to read the postcards and they’re still going to have to handle the mail and deliver it, but for security they’ve chosen to go with the postcards,” Johnson said. She couldn’t yet provide numbers regarding the volume of mail in question, or the amount of staff time that was taken up sorting through mail, and how much of that time would be saved under the new policy. Unlike in Santa Rosa, a jail with a capacity of 500, the Flagler jail is relatively small. It has a capacity of 132. On Thursday, it had 158 inmates.

The ban on stamps has to do with contraband, too: it can be smuggled in using licked stamps, though Johnson said the jail would not provide details. Inmates at the jail have no access to the Internet, to email, or to portable phones or communication devices. They may only use payphones through a system called Pay-Tel, which charges a flat fee of $2.25 for the first 15 minutes for local calls. Out-of-county calls in the United States cost 50 cents a minute, not including operator charges of between $1.85 (in-state) and $2.85 (out of state) per call. In other words, phone calls are expensive regardless.

Writing an unlimited number of postcards isn’t a financial solution: according to the Santa Rosa lawsuit, an inmate would need to write 18 postcards, at 28 cents each, to write the equivalent of a two-page letter, costing a total of $5.04 to transmit the same amount of information.

Last year an inmate sued the Manatee County sheriff over a similar policy, but the lawsuit was thrown out before it got a hearing. “The constitutional issues have never been fully litigated in federal court in Florida,” Benjamin Stevenson, a Pensacola-based staff attorney with the ACLU, said Thursday evening. Stevenson is litigating the Santa Rosa case.

“Inmates and their friends and families ought to be able to receive and send letters. That’s the simple answer,” Stevenson said. “These policies that needlessly restrict inmates, they not only punish the inmates, many of whom have not been convicted, but also their friends and family.” When visiting hours are limited, phone calls are expensive and email not allowed, written mail is “often the only practical way for inmates to maintain contact.” Beyond practicality, there’s also privacy: while jail staff has the right to inspect mail, an inmate’s or correspondents’ words should not have to be seen by everyone else along the way, especially when medical, financial and personal family matters are at stake. It’s also common that an inmate would want to write, say, to a spouse without having the inmate’s child see the correspondence. That privacy is no longer possible.

Stevenson doesn’t buy the argument that restricting mail to postcards saves money or time, since the mail would still have to be inspected (and inspectors may have to strain longer to decipher the inevitably smaller print in restrictive postcards, for example). It is doubtful, however, that local county jail have either conducted empirical analyses of time spent (or saved) through various implementation of mail policies while translating that time into dollar figures. It costs about $50 a day to incarcerate an inmate, Stevenson said, “and we’re arguing over a dime here, or a nickel, or penny? The same argument can be made over food.”

The Santa Rosa suit (see the full text) was filed on First and Fourteenth Amendment grounds. It charges that by limiting how much they can express themselves, the policy violates inmates’ right to free speech. The policy, the lawsuit charges, “prevents family and friends of inmates from receiving these fully developed and complete messages from jail inmates. In addition, the postcards expose the content of the inmates’ communications to anyone who handles, processes, or views in route the postcards, both within the jail and after the postcards leave the facility.” The new policy, the suit continues, forces “inmates to either abandon including sensitive information in their non-privileged correspondence or risk divulging confidential, sensitive information to unknown third-parties who can easily intercept these messages on postcards. Including sensitive financial information on a postcard increases the chance that the jail inmate may become a victim of identity thief or fraud. The Postcard-Only Mail Policy either chills jail inmates from writing about sensitive matters entirely, or it requires them to expose their communications to a host of strangers or unintended recipients—such as postal employees, an office secretary or a child who retrieves from the mailbox a postcard that discusses sensitive details intended only for the parent’s eyes.”

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59 Responses for “Flagler Sheriff Bans Inmates From Writing Or Receiving Personal Mail Other Than Postcards”

  1. Concern Citizen says:

    Just thought i would share a story i am to well familiar with, I to have been incarcirated in flagler’s facility. Not having committed a crime at all. To wait patiently for 30 days without having a clue of who committed it. The honest truth 30 days seemed more like years. Not a day went by i did not cry, not because i was there , i do believe if the crime is done then the time must be done as well, but because i was completely innocent. Yeah,thats what they all say when they enter these doors i was told. Having only my mail coming in and going out the only way i could keep going. My visitation was limited being that my family was not in the state and coming from a family that could not afford the collect calls i depended on my mail.Being released 30 days later with a full apology from the sheriff dept for a complete mistake done only on their part (mistake in identity).Place yourself in that situation and imagine sending all your thoughts and emotions on a index card. They are still humans and still have family and friends who would love to hear from them by a letter.

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  2. Richard says:

    I guess i missed this story when it was first posted and thank Concern Citizen for reigniting it with a comment. I have never been inside a jail and hope never to be, but I do know people that have. In fact I think it is almost impossible for anyone in Palm Coast who has had a house built in the last 10 years NOT to have been in close contact with an “ex” somewhere on their construction team whether they knew it or not. I can think of several workers that admitted it to me once they found that I was not going to have them kicked out of work if it did not impact the job they did. Usually it was some youthful indiscretion that got them there and was now a permanent blot on their life.
    We do our society a great injustice by painting EVERYONE in jail as killers and threats to society. Yes, there are those in jail that are, and they need to be dealt with appropriately. There are those who have committed other serious crimes that merit punishment, but will eventually be released. There are those who have committed more minor crimes that we hope wil return to normal society. There are those who have been convicted at a first trial but are waiting appeal. There are those that have not yet been convicted of anything and are therefore supposed to be presumed innocent.
    Policies should differentiate between these categories, or we will drive all inmates further away from the return to society that we hope should be the result of a proper criminal justice system. Inmates that have not been tried, or are serving relatively short sentences, should be allowed every opportunity to maintain a normal emotional family relationship, including letters and family photos. Perhaps “Captain Courageous” only communicates with his wife in short postcard phrases, but that should not be set as the norm for every relationship. Inmates who expect to return to their lives have a multitude of financial, work, family and personal issues that have to be dealt with while they are in jail. They should be allowed the chance to do that other than on a simple postcard.

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  3. OMG!!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME???!!! THIS SEEMS TO BE A VIOLATION OF OUR CIVIL RIGHTS! IF I HAD FAMILY IN JAIL, I WOULD SURELY WANT TO WRITE TO THEM TO HELP KEEP THEM IN TOUCH WITH THE REAL WORLD SO THEY DON’T GET TOTALLY DEPRESSED IN THERE! AND WHAT ABOUT IF THEY HAVE CHILDREN, DON’T YOU THINK THEY WOULD WANT TO AT LEAST SEE PICTURES OF HOW THEY ARE GROWING???!!! WHAT THE HELL CAN YOU WRITE ON A POSTCARD???!!! I AM ALL FOR FIGHTING THIS IMMEDIATELY BEFORE IT COMES INTO LAW. THIS IS TOTALLY UNFAIR. AND ANOTHER THING, WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN BEYOND A SHADOW OF A DOUBT TO BE GUILTY. LET THOSE INMATES GET THEIR MAIL!!!!!!!

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  4. Dr. Feelgood says:

    Louise,

    It’s a JAIL not a prison… it’s a transient population in a jail versus being permanent in a prison.

       0 likes

  5. palmcoaster says:

    Totally agree with Louise and Inmate’s Wife. If I would be put in jail for 30 days by the sheriff error, sure I will sue him for whatever possible. Are we becoming the USAR? Give those inmates their letters!! I thought that we want to re-educate and integrate them back to society right? Or want to keep them locked to generate more profits for the privately run prisons? Look a AZ’s Governor Jane Drinkwine Brewer cozy relationship with her state privately run prisons. Of course she is imprisoning illegal’s after passing 1070, generating big profits for those jailers on the taxpayers pockets. http://www.kpho.com/news/24834877/detail.html

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  6. palmcoaster says:

    Also please, give them those donated books as well….We built a palace for King Hammond but do not have room in the jail for some books for the inmates? Give me a break with such an inhumane standards. Permanent wars and financial, political, religious and race prejudice is what keeps Americans looking for relief in substance and crowding jails. Maybe when we stop trying to save the world and instead go back to help our own first, then will need less jails and prisons.

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  7. RicardoLEO says:

    Mass incarceration in the United States continues at record high levels despite outsized costs. According to recent data reported in The Economist, the United State has the world’s highest incarceration rate, locking up five times more people per capita than Britain, nine times more than Germany, and 12 times more than Japan. For 2010 the US rate was 748 per 100,000 population, Russia = 600, Brazil = 245, Iran = 220, Britain = 148, China = 124, Canada = 122, France = 98, Germany = 76, Japan = 71.

    In summary, the United State is considered the most punitive country in the world. But we still have one of the highest crime rates of any county in the world. There must be more innovative ways to save money in jails and prisons than banning letters to or from inmates.

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    • interested reader says:

      This is very interesting! In my opinion Law Enforcement is more of a business than anything else. It has gotten way out of control. The number one interest is money! That’s one reason why their trying to save some. I don’t like crime either. But now days almost anything is a crime. I’ve seen our liberties erode a great deal over the course of my 49 years. Things were better in the old days. It seems like taking away the ability to communicate with family and friends is just another one that some would like to see disappear also.

      The bad people should be locked up. But most people shouldn’t be.

      If you have ever done any time you would know that every hour of every day you are being punished. That’s called doing time. The conditions that you have to deal with every day. That is the punishment. When I was in the county jail I did’t have many money. They wouldn’t even supply shampoo. My head was so bad with sores that I had to trade some of the little bit of food I got just to barter shampoo from another inmate, which is against jail rules, bartering. The food was so poor in nutrition it was almost unbelievable. I was released but in much poorer health. The razor they give you is from china and won’t cut without pulling out your beard. They pass one around 1 time a week. The bunks are hard. You have to deal with the moods of the other inmates and the guards alike. It is punishment. Some people have children and families who care about them. They should be able to at least communicate with them.

      The system is always taking one example of an instance to make a broad encroaching ruling against everybody. There will always be an offender who will do something like try to put something under a postage stamp, but that would be a 1000 to 1 instance and not the norm.

      Their are always special interest who try to get their way by using propaganda as a tool. Most of them are hypocrites in some way or another. You realize that when they finally get caught doing something that some other group has deemed is against the law and got it put on the books.

      Most people are busy bodies and can’t mind their own business. A crime should only be what someone else does to somebody else. Not victimless occurrences that are deemed crimes in the eyes of a special interest group.

      It’s politically incorrect to legalize something like marijuana even when prescription drugs are far more dangerous and available. It’s about money and saving face. It’s political suicide to vote for legalizing marijuana.

      I’ve seen the same corrections officers who abuse inmates and tell them to settle their own disputes in their own way with violence being caught bringing cell phones and cigarettes and other contraband into the institution. They are above the law until they are finally caught. County jails are maximum security institutions and a secret code in a letter is not going to make any difference in reality. It’s more like a kid playing fun and games. And if their is a true gangster in the midst of the prisoners a postage stamp or an index card isn’t going to make the least bit of difference. They will just put a corrections officer in their pocket. It’s business as usual. Everyone is still subject to human nature. It’s just another ploy to get what they want by using the same old tactics that have gotten them what they wanted all along the way. So why stop now.

      As far as how to prevent crime I don’t know or best way to punish or rehabilitate?

      What do you call someone who tortures little animals. That is what some people are like who want to put their ideas on everyone else. Until they are exposed they will run their mouths and torture everyone else and enforce their beliefs on the rest of society. Just wait, everyone get’s caught at something in time.

         0 likes

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