North Santa Rosa

Agreement Reached With Inmate Mail

Settlement Reached in Class Action Lawsuit Involving Inmate Mail

A settlement has been reached regarding a class action lawsuit involving mail being sent from the Santa Rosa County Jail by inmates. This class action lawsuit was filed in September 2010 against the Sheriff forSanta RosaCountyto challenge the Sheriff’s Postcard-Only Mail Policy.  Pursuant to this Policy, Jail inmates were forbidden from mailing any non-privileged mail (mail to someone other than courts, attorneys, government officials or agencies, and news media) that is not in postcard format to outside correspondents.  The Sheriff instituted the Postcard-Only Mail Policy on or about July 26, 2010.The following statement is from Keith Tischler from Jolly and Peterson, P.A. (Counsel for the Sheriff):

 “In an effort to enhance security by minimizing the opportunity for inmates to engage in behavior such as escape plans, plans related to ongoing criminal activity, and threats of blackmail or extortion, and to further reduce costs in a time of budgetary crisis, in the Summer of 2010 Sheriff Wendell Hall altered the policy for the Santa Rosa County Jail with regard to outgoing mail and limited non-privileged outgoing correspondence to postcards. This change in policy did not restrict the number of postcards that could be sent and did not seek to censor the content of the communication contained on the postcards.  Inmates could still sent enveloped mail to their attorneys.  Since all non-privileged inmate mail is inspected before it is sent, limiting outgoing mail to postcards would reduce the time spent by personnel in inspecting the mail since postcards could be more easily and quickly inspected or reviewed as opposed to enveloped correspondence that required the opening of an envelope, the inspection of the contents, and placing the communication back in the envelope before mailing.


At the time this was initiated a number of jails had gone to postcard only policies as to incoming mail and the courts had upheld such restrictions on inmate communication with the outside world, as it had done with other limitations on certain forms of inmate communications.  Jails that had initiated postcard only policies as to outgoing mail had not had those policies challenged and there were no existing decisions from any courts finding such policies to be unlawful. To date no appellate court or the Supreme Court has ruled on the issue.  The research conducted by the Sheriff’s staff before the policy change was implemented did not reveal any Constitutional deficiency in the postcard only outgoing mail policy.  Prior to initiating the legal challenge to the Santa Rosa Jail policy, neither the ACLU nor any other organization contacted the Sheriff or the Jail to complain of the policy or offer any legal authority to support the proposition that the postcard only policy was unlawful.

During the course of the litigation in federal court regarding the postcard only policy at the Santa Rosa County Jail, the Plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU, attempted to have a preliminary injunction entered that would have prevented the Sheriff from continuing to enforce the postcard only policy while the case progressed.  The court did not enter a preliminary injunction after a hearing on the ACLU’s motion in August of 2011.  In fact, there has never been a declaration by any court that the Santa Rosa County Jail’s postcard only policy is unlawful or that it violates the Constitutional rights of inmates; the policy has not been stricken down by any court as the ACLU has referenced in its recent press release.

Instead, as the litigation over the policy continued, the Sheriff initiated discussions with the ACLU attorneys as to how the policy could be modified to allow inmates some opportunity to communicate with some level of confidentiality while also recognizing the needs of the Sheriff to control costs and maintain security.  The Sheriff also recognized that the majority of the inmates subject to the policy were pretrial detainees who had not been convicted of any crime and who should be permitted to engage in some confidential communication with family members or others.  After negotiation, the parties agreed to the terms of the Consent Decree entered by the court.  Due to the nature of the action initiated by the Plaintiffs represented by the ACLU, court approval was required for agreement entered into by the parties.  On Monday, the court entered its order approving the agreement of the parties, specifically recognizing that the agreement reached balances the rights of the inmates with the needs of the Sheriff in operating the Jail.

Specifically, the revisions to the Jail policy with regard to mail allow for enveloped correspondence, but limit the number of free envelopes, paper and postage provided to indigent inmates who make up the bulk of the inmate population and also limits the number of envelopes inmates can purchase from the inmate commissary or retain from outside sources.  All other mail must still be in postcard form and remains unlimited.  All mail remains subject to inspection to insure it does not contain escape plans, plans related to ongoing criminal activity, and threats of blackmail or extortion.  This compromise addresses the Sheriff’s concerns related to costs of supplies and time spent by personnel in inspecting the outgoing mail, not saving as much time and money as a postcard only policy, but also not expending as much time and money as under the pre-postcard only policy.  The new policy, as was the case with the old, still allows for the inmates at the Jail to send unlimited amounts of correspondence and still provides writing materials to inmates who are indigent.”

Sheriff Hall is satisfied that the objectives of the policy will still be met under the settlement agreement, and that all parties involved were able to reach a mutual compromise that is beneficial to all.

Attached is a copy of the Agreement. Further inquiries can be addressed to Keith Tischler at or the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office.

Posted by on Feb 14 2012. Filed under Local. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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