Prisoners' Rights

ACLU of Oregon Challenges Unconstitutional Mail Policy in Jackson County Jail

By David Schor, Legal Intern, ACLU of Oregon

UPDATE: June 21, 2012 - The Medford Mail-Tribune reports today that Jackson County Sheriff Winters has reversed the jail’s mail policy and will once again treat ACLU mail to and from inmates as the privileged mail that it is. This is welcomed news but we aren’t dismissing our lawsuit just yet. We look forward to learning more specifics about the Sheriff’s plan to change the jail mail policy.

On June 6, 2012, the ACLU of Oregon filed suit in federal court to challenge Jackson County Jail’s unconstitutional inmate mail policy. The U.S. and Oregon Constitutions protect the free speech rights of inmates and those who wish to communicate with them. However, over the past two years a number of Oregon counties have adopted policies that severely restrict inmate mail. These policies have limited acceptable mail to postcards and have negatively impacted prisoners by forcing inmates to either expose private information such as passwords, bank records, intimate correspondence between spouses, and other sensitive content, or else forgo written communication on those important subjects. Even inmates who have not been convicted of any crime are subject to these restrictions during pre-trial detention. On May 29, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon held that Columbia County Jail’s “postcard only” policy violated the First Amendment, finding that limiting correspondence to and from jails to postcards was not rationally related to a legitimate and neutral governmental objective because it did nothing to increase jail security.

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Commission on Public Safety Reconvenes, Aims for Sentencing Reform in 2013

By Becky Straus, Legislative Director

Smart reform of our criminal justice system is possible. With rates of incarceration in Oregon at historic highs, policymakers are turning to address an issue that the ACLU has been litigating and advocating on for decades. We can create a criminal justice system that is both fair and effective and there is real momentum to do so now.

Last week, Governor Kitzhaber’s Commission on Public Safety reconvened in Salem, welcoming new members and charting out a work plan for the months leading up to the 2013 legislative session. The Commission’s charge is clear: in the face of a state budget in crisis and unceasing growth in prison population, find smart and sustainable ways to reduce corrections spending and protect public safety.

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