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PLN Settles Lawsuit against Florida Jail’s Postcard-only Policy

After PLN filed suit, a South Florida federal district court granted a preliminary injunction requiring the St. Lucie County Jail (SLCJ) to keep its amended postcard-only policy in effect during the litigation, which later resulted in a settlement.

PLN filed a civil rights action challenging SLCJ’s postcard-only policy in December 2013, which required all incoming correspondence to be on postcards. [See: PLN, Jan. 2014, p.42]. The following month, SLCJ amended its policy.

The amended policy exempts privileged mail, which is defined as mail from attorneys, courts, public officials, government agencies and the news media; privileged mail need not be in postcard form and can be opened only in the prisoner’s presence to check for contraband.

The amendment further exempts publications such as the books, magazines and periodicals PLN sends to prisoners confined at SLCJ. Prisoners who wish to receive such reading materials must pay for them in advance, and they have to be sent direct from the publisher.

PLN moved, in part, for the amended policy to remain in effect during its challenge to the jail’s postcard-only policy. The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Frank J. Lynch, Jr., whose subsequent report and recommendation found that PLN did not have “standing to challenge general correspondence or personal correspondence to any inmate other than correspondence between [it] and that inmate.” Thus, the claim related to third-party correspondence could not stand.

Magistrate Lynch found that PLN did have standing to challenge the postcard-only policy after it was amended, and he then turned to SLCJ’s mootness claim. As “the amended policy has been of such a short duration and is subject to being changed at any time,” he held the matter was not moot and recommended a preliminary injunction be entered to maintain the amended policy as it relates to PLN’s communications with prisoners during the pendency of the litigation. The district court adopted the magistrate’s report on September 8, 2014, and entered a preliminary injunction.

The parties settled the remaining issues of damages, fees and costs in December 2014. Under the jail’s amended policy prisoners can now receive books and magazines, though the postcard-only policy for general correspondence remains in effect. PLN was represented by attorneys Randall Berg and Dante Trevisani with the Florida Justice Institute, and by Human Rights Defense Center general counsel Lance Weber and former HRDC staff attorney Robert Jack. See: Prison Legal News v. Mascara, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Fla.), Case No. 2:13-cv-14481-JEM. 

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Mascara