Inmates in San Diego County jails will soon be allowed to receive letters, books, and magazines, according to a settlement reached on November 18. The county will be required to return to the former policy of allowing prisoners to receive any mail that does not pose safety hazards.
As reported by the Reader in October 2014, the Florida–based Human Rights Defense Center sued the County of San Diego for a policy, implemented in September 2012, that prohibited inmates from receiving any mail other than postcards or emails — with the exception of correspondence from prisoners’ attorneys.
The Human Rights Defense Center claimed the policy violated prisoners’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and prevented them from accessing information on the prison and legal system, such as the center's monthly journal, Prison Legal News, which was banned as a result of the policy.
In May 2015, United States District Court judge James Lorenz agreed. Lorenz ordered the sheriff's department to suspend enforcement until the case could be heard. In November, the two sides agreed to settle the case.
Per the settlement agreement, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department agrees to return to its previous policy unless the department wants to implement a new one that still allows prisoners to receive more than postcards or emails.
And if a letter or periodical is not allowed, the agreement requires prison employees to write to the inmate and sender notifying them of the decision and provide reasons as to why the item was restricted. The notification must also include information on how to appeal the decision.
According to the settlement, the terms must remain in place until January 2021.
"After that date," reads the settlement agreement, "enforcement of the court may be terminated on a motion [from the sheriff's department] establishing substantial compliance over the period of the agreement, and the institution of policies and procedures to ensure durable compliance."
Details such as how much San Diego County and the sheriff's department will be required to pay for attorney fees has not been addressed but will be in a separate agreement.
(corrected 12/19, 12:10 p.m.)