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Macomb County jail changes mail policy after PLN files suit

Macomb Daily, Sept. 8, 2015.

Macomb sheriff loosens policy for jail inmate mail

By Jameson Cook, The Macomb Daily



Although the Macomb County sheriff has loosened mail restrictions at the jail, a non-profit legal publication is continuing its federal censorship lawsuit against the jail.

Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said last week he lifted the policy that only allowed inmates to receive 5 x 7 inch white postcards, 12 magazine titles and legal mail. The new policy adopted July 8 allows inmates to receive letters in envelopes and any periodical excluding those banned by law -- pornography or those advocating violence.

Wickersham and county lawyer John Schapka would not say the policy was changed in response to the June 30 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit by the Prison Legal News against Macomb County, Wickersham and Jail Administrator Michelle Sanborn.

But Prison Legal News attorneys said it was, although they still worry the policy could change back so they plan to continue to seek a permanent injunction.

“The only logical conclusion here is that the defendants changed their jail mail policy in response to the present litigation,” Prison Legal News lawyer James Stewart says in a court document. “The defendants are free to return to their illegal action at any time. … Plaintiff’s rights will depend upon the defendant’s whims if it is not granted an injunction.”

A hearing on the injunction and the county’s motion to dismiss Wickersham and Sanborn from the lawsuit is scheduled for Sept. 30 in front of Judge Avern Cohn.

Stewart told The Macomb Daily the changes aren’t completely satisfactory but hopes the two sides can reach an agreement.

“They haven’t changed it officially,” he said. “They’re moving in the right direction. There still some aspects” the Prison Legal News objects to.

The Prison Legal News is a softcover monthly journal published by the Human Rights Defense Center to help inmates understand their legal rights. Its publications are sent to inmates in more than 2,400 correctional facilities in the country.

The sheriff in August 2013 implemented a postcard-only mail policy that restricted incoming correspondence to metered, 5-inch by 7-inch white postcards. The policy also restricted books to one distributor, Amazon Prime, and limited magazines to 12 titles including People, Field & Stream, Newsweek, Outside, Time, Money, Reader’s Digest, O the Oprah Magazine, Men’s Fitness Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Parenting.

The Prison Legal News, which was not on the list of approved publications, filed a lawsuit, claiming violation of rights to free speech and due process.

“Inmates have a First Amendment Right to communicate with the outside world by sending and receiving mail,” the magazine says in a court document.

The policy was adopted in large part to save money, Schapka said. The sheriff must deploy personnel to open and check letters and other mail for contraband. The prior, more restrictive policy reduced the cost for monitoring mail.

Now, any of the thousands of magazine and periodical titles are allowed for inmate to purchase, Schapka added, although the Prison Legal News objected to some of the language in the new policy.


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