The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) said Friday that it is nearing a settlement in a federal lawsuit challenging a controversial Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) mail policy in which photocopies of incoming mail be delivered to inmates instead of the original copies, which were stored.
The ACLU-PA, joined by the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP), Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) and Amistad Law Project (ALP) filed the lawsuit in October. A separate complaint was also filed by Davon Hayes, an inmate at the DOC’s Smithfield facility.
Although the policy affects all incoming mail, the lawsuit focused specifically on legal mail, arguing that the mail policy interferes with the confidentiality of communications from attorneys to their clients. The plaintiffs also argue that the policy violates the inmates’ First Amendment rights. The DOC said it had enacted the policy over concerns of contraband being sent to prisoners via mail, although the suit argues no proof that any contraband had ever been sent via legal mail.
According to a press release issued by the four organizations in the lawsuit, the DOC has agreed to stop the mail policy beginning April 6, creating new screening procedures that “will respect the rights of prisoners to confidential and privileged attorney-client communications without compromising the department’s efforts to prohibit drug use in the prisons.”