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September 24, 2014 / Shauna Madison

Lewis County Jail Sued For Outdated “Post Card Only” Policy

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On April 11, 2014, Prisoner Legal News (PLN), a project of the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), filed a lawsuit against Lewis County of the State of Washington and several of its employees directly involved in the operation of Lewis County Jail. The complaint alleged that defendants violated several of the prisoners First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by enforcing a “post card only” policy. PLN also asserted that the rights of the individuals who attempted to correspond with these prisoners were also violated.

PLN publishes and distributes a 64-page monthly magazine that reports on criminal justice issues as well as prison and jail related civil ligation with an emphasis on prisoner rights. From September 2013 through October 2013, PLN mailed informational brochures to several prisoners of Lewis County Jail. Unbeknownst to PLN, the Lewis County Jail had a “post card only” policy. This policy prompted the County Jail employees to return over 45 mailings to PLN due to their “unauthorized status.”

On April 21, 2014, PLN filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop Lewis County from enforcing their “post card only” policy during litigation. Although the Lewis County Jail argued that the policy has since been changed and that the case is now moot, Judge J. Richard Creatura of the U.S. District Court of Washington at Tacoma stated that “there is substantial evidence to believe that this policy has not been adopted.”

In a 27-page order, Judge Creatura granted PLN’s injunction and enjoined defendants from restricting incoming and outgoing prisoner mail to postcards only, and ordered defendants not to refuse to deliver or process prisoner personal mail on the ground that it is in a form other than a postcard.

In this order, Judge Creatura explained that in order to obtain a preliminary injunction, four elements must be met: (1) that plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits, (2) that plaintiff is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, (3) that the balance of equities tips in plaintiff’s favor, and (4) that the injunction is in the public interest. In his discussion of how these elements were met, Judge Creatura also stated that the post card only policy “prevents family members from sending items like photographs, copies of bills, and medical information; None of these things can be easily replaced by telephone calls or regular visitation.”

If you or someone you know have experienced what you believe is a violation of Constitutional rights, you may be entitled to relief. Please call Khorrami Boucher, LLP for a confidential consultation.

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