The reversal came after a lawsuit was filed against the county in U.S. District Court in Detroit
After nearly two years, Macomb County Jail inmates can again receive letters in envelopes and most magazines.
The jail’s mail policy recently reverted back to what it was before it was changed in mid-August 2013 to personal mail on metered 5x7 white postcards, a list of 12 magazines and legal mail such as letters mailed by an inmate's attorney.
County officials said they could not comment on why they reverted to the old, more expansive policy. Corporation Counsel John Schapka cited attorney-client privilege and Sheriff Anthony Wickersham cited pending litigation.
The county, Wickersham and jail administrator Michelle Sanborn are named in a lawsuit filed June 30 in U.S. District Court in Detroit by the Human Rights Defense Center, which publishes the monthly journal Prison Legal News and claims the journal and other correspondence have been censored from jail inmates on at least 245 occasions since July 2014.
The case cites First and 14th Amendment violations and asks for a preliminary injunction. The county is seeking to have the case against Wickersham and Sanborn dismissed. A hearing is set for Sept. 30.
Prison Legal News contains news about detention facilities, prisoners’ rights, court rulings and prison conditions. It is distributed to more than 2,400 correctional facilities across the country.
Three former inmates also have sued in federal court, saying the restrictions violated their civil rights. The court dismissed two of the plaintiffs, and the county has a motion to dismiss the third.
In the lawsuit involving Prison Legal News, plaintiffs say the the defendants failed to provide the publication with constitutionally adequate due process notice of the censorship and a meaningful opportunity to appeal. Some of the mailings came back with stickers stating they were denied because they didn’t meet institutional criteria.
In its motion to dismiss, the county states the mailings were not rejected for their editorial content but because the publication was not on the approved vendor list. Had it marked its mailings legal mail, it would have been admitted into the facility, it states.
The jail mail policy reversal came after the lawsuit was filed, Wickersham said.
Schapka said some mailings, such as pornography, sexually explicit material and hate literature focusing on race, gender or sexual identity, were not allowed under either policy.
The county moved to postcards and specific magazines to cut down on contraband coming into the lockup and the time it took officers to screen and redact each mailing and publication. No changes were made to mail regarding legal matters.
The change, reported in the Free Press last year, was one that Terry Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, said more lockups were making.
But prisoner advocates have said mail is the only way an inmate or prisoner can stay in touch with family and that communication with family is important.
Early last year, neither Wayne County nor Oakland County jails had such a restrictive policy on jail mail, allowing letters in envelopes, legal mail, postcards, magazines and books. There have been no policy changes at the Oakland County Jail since then. The Wayne County lockup could not be reached Friday.
The Macomb County lockup is going back to one officer spending four to five hours Monday through Saturday to check the mail instead of the one hour or so it took after the 2013 policy took effect.
That policy restricted magazines to People, Field & Stream, Newsweek, Outside, Time, Money, Reader’s Digest, O the Oprah Magazine, Men’s Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Parenting.