Taking Legal Action to Secure Incarcerated Individuals’ Right to Receive Postal Mail

An envelope can be seen inside a peering eye, behind bars.

In 2021, San Mateo County, California prohibited people imprisoned in local jails from getting post. Instead, family and friends had to post their letters to Smart Communications, a private, for-profit company located in Florida. This company would scan and dispose of the letters so that those detained would be obliged to read them electronically on a small number of shared tablets and kiosks in public areas of the jails.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, and the Social Justice Legal Foundation have recently joined forces in filing a complaint against the unlawful policy. This can be viewed here.

A legal complaint was filed by five incarcerated individuals in San Mateo County jails, some of their family members, and A.B.O. Comix, consisting of artists who communicate with those in jail. The suit alleges that the mail policy infringes on the freedom of expression, association, and privacy of those in the county’s jails, and those who send them letters. This is the first major challenge to the digitization of private mail in U.S. jails.

The present policy in the Redwood City jail impinges on the privacy of the 850 incarcerated people, as well as their family members. Making matters worse, the limited number of tablets means there is less time and fewer opportunities to read communications from loved ones. It is difficult to understate the significance of written correspondences for those in jails and prisons across the US, as it is a vital link to the outside world.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is taking a stand against privatization of the penal system, as well as the deprivation of privacy of those incarcerated. One specific example of this is the excessive charges for prisoners to make phone calls to their families, which has recently been prohibited in Connecticut. This legal action exemplifies their dedication to putting a stop to these practices.

More than half a million people in the United States are currently held in county jails including Redwood City’s. 427,000 of those individuals are yet to be convicted as they await trial. This lawsuit is hoped to set a precedent that those people and their loved ones have basic rights that must not be violated as local governments attempt to gain profit from people’s experiences with the justice system.

The complete EFF legal case against San Mateo County may be found here.

The ailing state of the environment has become a pressing matter that calls for immediate attention. The need for action is now more urgent than ever before, as the planet’s natural resources are being rapidly depleted and the climate is undergoing drastic changes. Consequently, it is essential that we take steps to conserve our planet’s resources and address the effects of climate change.

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