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HRDC mentioned in article re postcard only policy at CA jail

UT San Diego, Jan. 1, 2013.
HRDC mentioned in article re postcard only policy at CA jail - UT San Diego 2013

Postcard rule means fewer drugs in jail

By Teri Figueroa
Aug. 10, 2013

Drug smuggling in the mail is down in the county’s jails. By a lot.

Sheriff’s officials credit the decline to a decision to ban inmates from getting letters in envelopes. Now, only postcards can be mailed to those in jail.

Since the ban started in September, deputies have uncovered 10 attempts to smuggle drugs through the mail. Compare that to the first eight months of 2012, before letters became taboo. Deputies uncovered 35 attempts to slip contraband into the jails, usually through the mail.

The year before, prosecutors filed 66 contraband cases.

“It’s a successful program as far as lowering the ability for people to send in contraband and narcotics,” said Lt. Wayne Brooks of the sheriff’s Detention Support Division.

The drop comes as the number of county jail inmates has increased from about 5,100 a day to about 5,500.

The senders can be sneaky. Deputies find marijuana or methamphetamine secreted inside the flaps of envelopes or tucked inside birthday cards. They even spotted heroin hidden inside mail supposedly sent from a child to an incarcerated parent.

Before the policy changes, deputies sometimes found hypodermic needles, portions of rolling papers, tobacco and even pieces of razor blades in letters to inmates.

Senders still try to mail drugs even in postcards. In one with a San Diego beach scene, jailers found heroin smeared between peeled-back layers of the paper.

The postcards have restrictions, too. No markings with paint, glitter, cosmetics or crayons are allowed. That means children can’t send crayon drawings to their parents.

Since Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona rolled out a postcard-only policy in 2007, at least 13 states have enacted laws to allow it.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department went with the ban last fall, after a judge upheld a similar postcard-only policy in Ventura County.

Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, a Florida-based nonprofit that advocates for inmates, said limiting incoming communications only to postcards strains family connections and makes it tough to reconnect after release from jail. That could lead to a higher risk of recidivism, he said.

Wright believes First Amendment rights of inmates should trump the need to block the relatively small number of drug-smuggling attempts in jails.

He hopes the trend may swing away from such bans, and pointed to an April federal court ruling that found the policy unconstitutional at an Oregon jail.

People can still email San Diego County jail inmates through the sheriff’s “Who’s In Jail” website.

Inmates can receive up to 10 one-page emails a day. (Before the postcard-only policy, the limit was five a day.) Emails are printed out and given to the inmates during evening mail call.

From September to June, 757,000 emails were sent to inmates, an increase of 30 percent over the same period the previous year.

Brooks said the increase could be tied in part to the rise in the number of inmates, not the ban on letters.

Wright said that many inmates come from poor families who might not have a way to send emails.

“Why should the government regulate how families communicate?” he said.

There is an exception to the postcard-only rule: Legal mail, including attorney-client communications or letters from the court, can be sent via envelope.

Approved magazines and books can also come in, as long as they are mailed directly from the publisher.

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