Federal Judge in Oregon Rules Limiting Inmates' Mail to Postcards Unconstitutional

Photo Credit: Tim Pearce, Los GatosA federal judge in Oregon has determined limiting inmates’ mail to only postcards is unconstitutional, throwing into question the legality of a practice used for years in jails across the country.

For two years, the Columbia County Jail north of Portland restricted inmates’ personal mail to the sending and receiving of postcards until U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon issued an injunction that stopped the practice in May 2012.

In a ruling made public Thursday, Simon said the practice by the St. Helens jail is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment rights of inmates, the people who write to them, and the plaintiff, a monthly national law journal published by the Vermont-based Human Rights Defense Center.

It’s the first legal precedent opponents can use in their opposition to a policy that stretches from Florida to the Arizona desert, where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is credited with first implementing it in 2007.

The primary reasons cited for the postcard-only mail policy are that it prevents contraband from entering the jail and it saves time for increasingly cash-strapped sheriff’s offices.

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