Judge rules for ACLU in El Paso Co. dispute over jail mail

Filed under: Daily News |

The El Paso County jail halted its policy of restricting inmates’ outgoing mail to postcards after a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction Monday to a group that says the practice is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Wiley Daniel granted the injunction to the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, which is suing El Paso and Boulder counties over the practice.

The ACLU says limiting inmates to corresponding by postcards is unconstitutional because inmates are reluctant to freely express themselves and write about personal, sensitive information.

“Incarcerated individuals will no longer be forced to avoid personal topics such as medical, financial or relationship issues simply because their words were in plain sight for anyone to read,” said Mark Silverstein, the group’s legal director.

“We had already made the decision last week to roll back to our previous policy,” El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa told The Gazette in Colorado Springs.

Maketa declined to comment further because “there are still negotiations and discussions taking place.”

When the new policy took effect in July, Maketa said the change would save money and improve security. Outgoing mail is screened for potential escape plots and drug smuggling.

The ACLU’s lawsuit against the Boulder County jail is pending.

Boulder County restricted outgoing mail last spring after two sex offenders sent Boulder-area children letters in envelopes that were stuffed inside envelopes addressed to a third party, who forwarded the letters.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said in an August interview that the jail handles 1,000 pieces of outgoing mail daily and it isn’t possible to check each one. He said the restrictions were a balancing act between protecting inmates’ rights and keeping the public safe.