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Boulder, Colorado Jail’s Postcard-Only Correspondence Policy Ends with Settlement

The ACLU has settled a lawsuit on behalf of detainees at Colorado’s Boulder County Jail, ending a policy that limited prisoners’ personal correspondence to postcards. The policy went into effect in March 2010 and the ACLU filed suit five months later.

The jail enacted the policy due to an outcry by parents whose children had received letters from jailed sex offenders. The sex offenders obtained the children’s names from a local newspaper and then looked up their last names in the phonebook. After writing letters to the children, they sent them to a third party to be remailed, in order to avoid having the envelope stamped to indicate it originated at the jail.

The parents confronted jail officials upon discovering the letters, resulting in implementation of the postcard-only correspondence policy. Paper and envelopes were provided only for official mail sent to attorneys, courts or doctors.

A Colorado federal district court approved class-action status for the lawsuit and appointed counsel in March 2011. The Boulder County Commission quickly moved to resolve the case, and a settlement was reached on April 12, 2011. In addition to rescinding the postcard-only policy, the ACLU will receive $65,000 in attorney’s fees.

“It is a very good day for the First Amendment at the Boulder County Jail,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado.

The new mail policy at the jail requires outgoing letters and envelopes to be stamped to advise they came from a prisoner. When the postcard-only policy went into effect, Jail Division Chief Larry Hank said screening detainee mail was too labor intensive. Sheriff Joe Pelle stated that jail staff will now resume such screening. See: Clay v. Pelle, U.S.D.C. (D. Colo.), Case No. 1:10-cv-01840-WYD-BNB.

A number of jails across the U.S. have instituted postcard-only policies, and various legal challenges are pending. [See: PLN, Nov. 2010, p.22]. The El Paso County jail in Colorado suspended its postcard policy in December 2010 and later settled a lawsuit challenging the policy. [See: PLN, Oct. 2011, p. 33].

Additional sources: Longmont Times-Call,

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Related legal case

Clay v. Pelle