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.”