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  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people. 

  • Ronald Johnson is pre-diabetic, suffers from asthma and high blood pressure, and regularly uses an inhaler to breathe. His age and respiratory ailments put him at risk of serious illness and death if he contracts COVID-19. With over hundreds of active cases in Colorado’s prisons, his family fears he will not make it out alive. His daughter, Amber, says, “In prison, he can’t protect himself and he can’t social distance. My deep fear is that my dad will die in prison. That is an awful, traumatic reality to consider. My chest is tight just thinking about how quickly it spreads and how vulnerable he is.”

    Governor Hickenlooper shortened his sentence following testimony from family, friends and correctional officers advocating for his early release. Yet, he is still eight years away from parole. While he remains in prison, COVID-19 continues to spread. Ronald’s three siblings, four children and four grandchildren are desperate for his release.

    Read more about Ronald Johnson and other at-risk incarcerated people.

  • Tuesday Olson knew her pregnancy was in trouble and tried to access hospital care as soon as possible. But there was a problem: she was in jail. This is her story.
  • It’s time to end the death penalty in Colorado. Family members who lost loved ones to murder speak out against an unjust and broken system.

Boulder Jail Post-Card Only Challenge Clears Hurdle

A federal district court judge today granted class action certification to the ACLU of Colorado’s First Amendment lawsuit against the Boulder County Jail, moving forward the ACLU’s efforts to end unconstitutional post-card only prisoner mail policies.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of jail detainees, challenges a policy implemented in March 2010 that restricts all outgoing prisoner correspondence at the Boulder County Jail to postcards supplied by the jail, except narrow categories deemed to be “legal” or “official” mail.

“Class certification was a critical and necessary step to preserving our opportunity to get an injunction banning the post card policy that is at issue in this case. We are very pleased with the ruling certifying this class,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director.
With class certification, Silverstein added, the class itself has standing to litigate the claims even if the individual claims of the named and unnamed plaintiffs become moot because of a detainee’s release or transfer.

In addition to certifying class status, Chief Judge Wiley Y. Daniel in his written decision also named Silverstein and David C. Fathi, director of the National Prison Project of the ACLU Foundation, as Class Counsel.

Chief Judge Daniel set April 21 as the date for a hearing on a motion for preliminary injunction in the case to compel the Boulder County Jail to immediately end its challenged postcard-only policy.

The ACLU lawsuit maintains that the policy violates the First Amendment rights of prisoners and their correspondents, including intimate partners, other family members, clergy and investigative journalists, among others.

“Writing letters to people outside of prison is critical for helping prisoners maintain their connection to their families and their communities and is also a key element of ensuring their successful reintegration upon release,” Fathi said. “Restricting the First Amendment freedoms of detainees is not only unwise but unconstitutional.”

The Boulder County Jail, located in Boulder, Colorado, has an average daily population of 400. It houses both convicted prisoners and detainees awaiting trial. The ACLU lawsuit was filed on behalf of five individual prisoners who represent a class of current and future prisoners subject to the post-card only policy.

The lawsuit names as defendants Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle, and Division Chief Larry R. Hank, jail administrator. It seeks a court ruling invalidating the post-card only policy.

Boulder County is now the only jail in Colorado with such a policy.

Rather than attempt to defend the post-card only practice before a judge, the El Paso County jail dropped a similar policy in December just after attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Colorado filed suit.

“If jail officials are serious about lowering recidivism and increasing public safety,” Silverstein said, “they will realize that preserving a prisoner’s right to send letters actually protects us all.”

Court documents and additional information are available at http://aclu-co.org/case/clay-v-pelle.



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