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Ventura County, CA jail changes mail rules due to PLN's lawsuit

Ventura County Star, Oct. 25, 2014. http://archive.vcstar.com/news/local/county/ven...

Ventura County jails dump postcard-only policy

By Cindy Von Quednow of the Ventura County Star

Posted: Oct. 25, 2014

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office has implemented a new policy for its jails after a federal court ruled its postcard-only policy unconstitutional, officials said.

The Sheriff’s Office got rid of the previous policy and started allowing envelopes after the May ruling by a U.S. District Court judge.

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

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

Ernest Galvan, an attorney representing the publication, has said the previous policy violated First Amendment rights of inmates and their loved ones outside jail, partly because they could not receive mail that could be beneficial to their future.

Attorneys from both sides drafted the new policy and the items that needed to be changed, said Sgt. Dave Lareva, who leads the sheriff’s detention services legal unit.

The policy they agreed on went before a judge to be signed and was put into effect in mid-September.

The jails now allow people to send mail in envelopes and senders to appeal the rejection of any mail, Lareva said.

Jail officials must notify the sender when mail is rejected, explain the reason and offer information on how to appeal the decision. The inmate, sender and jail all get a copy of the notice, Lareva said.

Officials try to return rejected packages to senders, but anything that could be considered contraband is not returned.

The mail is still searched and sorted at the main jail facility in Ventura and delivered to inmates there and at Todd Road jail near Santa Paula and the east county jail in Thousand Oaks, Lareva said. He said mail staff and others must adapt to the new policy, and that includes additional training.

“We have to open envelopes and make sure there is no contraband coming into the jails. This takes longer obviously than just having postcards, but we have to be diligent,” Lareva said.

Galvan said the new policy is still fresh and hasn’t been tested.

“In our experience, what matters is training of staff,” he said.

“Well see how it goes. If our materials and the materials of other publishers, as well as family and friends, get through OK, and if the jails can maintain the new policy, it’s good.”

JAIL MAIL RULES

• Enveloped mail and postcards are accepted at any Ventura County sheriff’s jail facility.

• All incoming mail must be delivered through the U.S. Postal Service or commercially licensed mail carrier. Mail cannot be dropped off.

• Inmates can send and receive as much mail as they want.

• No gang codes or markings are accepted. Mail also may not be marked with paint, heavy crayon, foil, heavy ink, glitter, cloth, string, watermarks, stains or stickers.

• Mail cannot contain any perceived biohazard, including lipstick, gloss and scents.

• Publications, photographs, postcards and letters cannot have pornographic images.

• Blank postcards or envelopes are not accepted.

• Magazines, newspapers and books must be sent directly from the publisher or a retail distributor.

• Mail cannot contain wire, spiral bindings, pens, pencils or other items causing safety or security concerns.

• If mail is rejected, the inmate and sender will both receive a notice.