Pennsylvania prisons to stop copying inmates’ legal mail – The Morning Call
— Read on www.mcall.com/news/nationworld/pennsylvania/mc-nws-pennsylvania-prison-inmate-mail-drugs-20190222-story.html
To settle two federal lawsuits, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections will stop intercepting and copying inmates’ legal mail as part of its drug surveillance and security plans. The settlement was announced Friday by the department and four civil rights groups that had joined an inmate in suing the department over its mail screening policy.
In September 2018, the department decided to prohibit inmates from getting mail delivered directly from lawyers, family and friends. It was started to stem an influx of illegal synthetic drugs, primarily k2, being smuggled into prisons and creating security and medical problems for inmates and staff.
The settlement calls for the department to stop screening inmates’ legal mail by April 6.
It came three days after U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III heard testimony in his Harrisburg courtroom.
The lawsuits, which were consolidated, challenged the legality of the legal mail searches, not the search of mail from family and friends. Mail from family and friends still will be screened.
At the hearing, criminal defense lawyers testified the policy violated attorney-client privilege and the legal ethical code, which requires them to keep secret their clients’ privacy.
Theron Perez, the department’s chief counsel, told Jones, they had evidence the colorless, odorless drug was mixed with ink before all types of documents, including legal correspondence, were printed and sent to the prison.
On Friday, Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said the settlement allows both sides to continue doing their jobs.
“The DOC respects the right of attorney-client privilege and recognizes the importance of attorney-client relationships,” Wetzel said in a statement. “At the same time the DOC has a responsibility to ensure that prisons are safe for those who work and live in them.”
One lawsuit was filed by inmate workers
In a statement the groups said: “The revised screening procedures will respect the rights of prisoners to confidential and privileged attorney-client communications without compromising the department’s efforts to prohibit drug use in the prisons.”
The corrections officers’ union was not happy, however. In a statement, the union said, “If the new procedures being put into place put any corrections officer in danger, the department will have another legal fight on its hands.”
Friday’s settlement has no bearing on the way the department screens inmates’ personal mail. Mail from family and friends must now be sent to a Florida processing facility before it is opened, scanned and copied. The copies are then sent back to the prison where the inmate is housed.