September 28, 2018

The ACLU of Indiana is representing two prisoners at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, and was recently granted  a preliminary injunction concerning the Indiana Department of Correction (DOC) facilities' policy that all incoming correspondence to prisoners must be in a plain white envelope and the correspondence must be on originally purchased, plain white, lined paper. The policy, Executive Directive #18-34, severely restricts the type of non-legal mail that can be sent to prisoners.

Prisoners’ rights to read, write, speak, practice their religion, and communicate with the outside world are often curtailed far beyond what is necessary for institutional security. Under the Executive Directive, items such as photocopies or clippings containing news, information designed to be of use in the prisoner’s appeal or post-conviction proceedings, greeting cards or letters generated by persons who use computers because of difficulties in writing, are not delivered to prisoners. 

Individuals impacted by the policy and their families have had difficulties communicating a a result of the Executive Directive. For example, one inmate who has not received several correspondences as a result of the Executive Directive, has family members who are attempting to find a lawyer for him to pursue action to challenge his conviction. He has been informed that a family member had downloaded forms from a law office and mailed the forms to him on multiple occasions, to fill out and return to the law firm so the law firm. The forms were not delivered to him because the correspondence failed to comply with the requirement that all incoming mail be on original white, lined paper.

The First Amendment rights of prisoners to receive information through mail has been violated, as the Executive Directive interferes with prisoners’ ability to receive communications. Activities such as reading and corresponding with the outside world are central to a prisoner's ability to retain their humanity, and to contribute to the flow of information. Eliminating the means for prisoners to receive items such as birthday cards or drawings from their children, is unjustified.

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