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Second Circuit Examines New York Prisoner’s Jail Mail Restrictions

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a prisoner’s suit challenging mail restrictions on mootness grounds because a rule change abandoned the objectionable regulation.

While awaiting trial at the Monroe County Jail, Rochester, New York appellant Gregory Wilkinson brought a § 1983 claim against Monroe County Sheriff for censorship of his incoming and outgoing mail, inclusive of withholding his mail. Wilkinson alleged certain outgoing mail to his mother and to his defense attorney was not sent, and that the jail was not delivering his subscribed newspaper. The case was dismissed without a hearing by the district court.

Wilkinson appealed, requesting reversal of the judgment and remanding for a hearing to consider the constitutionality of 7 NYCRR 5100.10(e), the underlying regulation from which arises mail handling policy at New York holding and correctional facilities. After argument, before judgment, the New York State Commission of Correction approved an amended § 5100.10(e) that effectively absorbed the assertions set forth by Wilkinson, thereby mooting his claim.

The court of appeals did note that the amended regulation paralled its own concern that a clear and present danger to the security of the jail must exist before jail officials may deviate from policy that is consistent with the First Amendment. The court also noted that there was a factual dispute as to whether the jail was delivering Wilkinson’s newspaper, and that it was sufficiently de minimis as to not warrant judicial scrutiny.

The case was affirmed for mootness. See: Wilkinson v. Skinner, 46.2 F.2d 670 (2nd Cir., 1972).

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Related legal case

Wilkinson v. Skinner