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Gazette Premium Content ACLU sues El Paso County jail over restrictions on inmate mail

TOM ROEDER Updated: September 14, 2010 at 12:00 am

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Sheriff Terry Maketa over a policy that limits El Paso jail inmates to postcards for correspondence with friends and family on the outside.

The policy, implemented last month, says prisoners can only use the small cards sold for 50 cents by the jail. Maketa has described the new policy as a money-saving move that makes the overloaded jail mail room more efficient.

It also makes it easier for jailers to screen inmate mail for illegal plots, including escape plans. Inmate letters dealing with legal matters are still allowed.

The ACLU’s Colorado legal director, Mark Silverstein, said the new mail rules violate the free-speech rights of the inmates.

“This postcard-only policy severely restricts prisoners’ ability to communicate with their parents, children, spouses, domestic partners, sweethearts, friends, or almost anyone else who does not fall within the jail’s narrow exception to the newly imposed ban on outgoing letters,” Silverstein said in a news release.

The ACLU said the policy stopped a woman at the Colorado Springs jail from sending drawings to her children who are too young to read and also stops inmates from sharing newspaper clippings and religious tracts.

The suit, filed Tuesday in federal District Court in Denver, is a class-action that combines the El Paso County claims with those of inmates battling a similar policy in Boulder County.

The ACLU claims that the policy creates serious privacy concerns by forcing inmates to “either abandon important correspondence or risk divulging highly confidential, sensitive information to anyone who will handle or see a postcard.”

Sheriff’s Department Lt. Lari Sevene said the policy makes the jail more secure by making it easier for deputies there to stop plots hatched through the mail, including deals to smuggle contraband into the facility.

Similar polices are used in Arizona and Oregon jails with the aim of stopping illicit communication between inmates and children on the outside.

“We have safety and security to take into consideration,” Sevene said.

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