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Florida DOC’s Pen Pal Advertisement Prohibition Challenged

The operators of two pen pal advertising services have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Florida Department of Corrections’ rule that prohibits prisoners from receiving information from or posting ads with pen pal advertisement services. The lawsuit was filed by the Florida Justice Institution on behalf of Joy Perry, who operates “Freedom Through Christ Prison Ministry” and “Prison Pen Pals,” and PLN advertiser

The complaint notes that many Florida prisoners are housed in remote, rural prisons not accessible by public transportation. Moreover, many prisoners are from out of state or out of the country. These factors, when combined with rigid and restrictive visitation rules, result in prisoners losing contact with or being abandoned by families and friends while in prison. When Florida prisoners attempt to combat their loneliness through forging new friendships via the historical method of pen pals, the FDOC either prohibits them from receiving information from pen pal services or imposes disciplinary sanctions if they post an ad.

Ms. Perry’s services are both religious and secular. Her prison ministry is free, connecting prisoners and free world persons together. The purpose is to reach prisoners who desire to learn about the Gospel of Christ through the exchange of letters. Her other service was founded in 1975 by a man who is now deceased, and it connects prisoners with free world persons and vice versa. charges $40.00 per year to place personal ads and seek pen pals on the internet. The fee includes printing out any email correspondence to the prisoner and mailing them via U.S. Mail. also assists prisoners in successfully re-entering society by allowing them to post a resume free of charge.

FDOC’s rule 33-210.101 (9), Florida Administrative Code “chills Plaintiffs’ ability to communicate with their current and potential inmate subscribers and violates Plaintiffs’ rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” charges the complaint.

FDOC disagrees. “This is a public safety issue for the department. Historically, we’ve had pen pals victimized by inmates, such as pen pals who get solicited for money,” says FDOC Spokewoman Jo Ellen Rackless. “We are trying to reduce fraudulent activity by inmates.”

The lawsuit notes that the services, by their very name, alert potential pen pals that they are dealing with prisoners. Furthermore, ready alternatives to the pen pal advertising ban exist. FDOC has rules to deal with any fraudulent activity or purported security concern. PLN will report developments in this case as they occur. See: Perry v. Hicks, USDC, M.D. Florida, Case No 3:09-cv-00403-MMH-JRK. Additional Source: Miami Herald

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Related legal case

Perry v. Hicks

The complaint is in the brief bank.