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Florida Jail Ends Postcard-Only Policy as Part of Settlement

Last year, the Sheriff of Florida’s Flagler County agreed to a settlement that revoked a postcard-only policy at his jail and allowed prisoners to receive and send mail in envelopes.

Jennifer Underwood’s husband was held at the Flagler County Jail, making them subject to the postcard-only policy. The policy required all mail sent to prisoners to be on postcards purchased from the U.S. Postal Service with pre-printed postage. Jennifer was prohibited from sending “letters, cards, photographs, full-page drawings, newspaper and magazine clippings, photocopied materials, and pages printed from an internet webpage.”

Her husband, Thomas Underwood, was prevented from sending outgoing letters that exceeded two sheets of paper or contained “obscene language,” which included ordinary swear words. The policy left prisoners and their families and friends with “few alternatives” to communicate “privately and freely.”

The ACLU of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute filed a class-action suit on behalf of Jennifer Underwood in 2013, pointing out that collect calls made by prisoners were expensive and other prisoners could overhear the conversations. Communication at weekly visits was also over a telephone. Additionally, the jail did not allow visits by children under 12, and people who live far from the jail could not visit easily. As such, mail correspondence was “the most feasible, practical, and private way to communicate and maintain a relationship.”

The lawsuit argued the postcard-only policy curtailed expression and added additional costs; it also chilled communication, because anyone who handled the postcard could read it and obtain personal information from it. The federal district court certified a class in January 2014, and the parties began to negotiate a settlement.

On April 30, 2014, the court entered an order implementing a settlement agreement, which provided injunctive relief that allows prisoners at the jail to receive non-privileged correspondence in envelopes regardless of the type of postage, length, language, recipient or source of the correspondence.

Jail officials may remove any affixed stamps, stickers or return address labels. If return address labels are removed, the jail must provide the prisoner with the address on the label; the prisoner and sender must also be provided notice of any censorship and afforded an opportunity to challenge it.

The district court retained jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the settlement through a consent decree. See: Underwood v. Manrfre, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Fla.), Case No. 3:13-cv-00192-MMH-PDB. 

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Related legal case

Underwood v. Manrfre