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Federal court grants preliminary injunction in PLN suit against Ventura County, CA

Ventura County Star, May 30, 2014.

Federal court rules postcard-only policy in Ventura County jails is unconstitutional

A U.S. District Court has ruled that the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office policy that allows jail inmates to receive only postcards is unconstitutional.

The policy prevents inmates from receiving mail such as Prison Legal News, which responded by suing Sheriff Geoff Dean, Assistant Sheriff Gary Pentis and commanders in charge of the county’s two jails.

“We are very pleased the judge is upholding the constitution,” Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, said in a statement.

Ernest Galvan, an attorney representing the publication, had previously told The Star that the policy violates First Amendment rights of inmates and their loved ones outside of jail partly because they cannot receive mail that could be beneficial to their future.

Prison Legal News, a project of the Florida-based Human Rights Defense Center, focuses on inmate rights, court rulings and news regarding correctional facilities across the country.

The publication — sent to inmates, attorneys and others nationwide — has successfully challenged similar jail policies in South Carolina, Georgia and Texas, officials said. No other jail in California apparently has such a policy.

A motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the postcard-only practice was granted Thursday. The Sheriff’s Office now has 21 days to suspend the policy for incoming mail and has 30 days to file an appeal. It also must give senders of rejected mail a written notice and opportunity to appeal the rejection.

The postcard-only policy was adopted in October 2010 to prevent drugs, weapons and large amounts of cash from being smuggled into jail in envelopes, officials say.

Postcards sent to the two jails must be no larger than 6 by 11 inches. Magazines, newspapers, books, packages and booklets are allowed only if sent directly from the publisher or an authorized retail distributor, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Everything sent to the jail is subject to inspection and will be returned to the sender if it does not meet the requirements.

Officials originally prevented inmates from sending outgoing mail in envelopes as well but later dropped that restriction.

In a 2012 lawsuit, inmates represented by the Ventura County Public Defender’s Office alleged the postcards-only policy limited their ability to communicate with clergy, doctors, relatives and friends. The policy, however, was upheld by a Ventura County Superior Court judge.


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