Freedom of speech has a heightened significance for prisoners, as free speech rights serve as a lifeline to a world left behind. This exchange of ideas contributes to a prisoner’s self growth, helping to build a sense of individual dignity, a sense of worth – something I believe the DOC appears to strip away in order to isolate and control.
The act of exchanging ideas is not accomplished by the act of merely writing words on paper, rather, it is only accomplished when the expressed thoughts are exchanged – read by the intended recepient. The intended recipient – a prisoner – and the sender of such communications derive from the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protection against unjustified governmental interference.
However, our right of free speech is not absolute in this context. The DOC can regulate our speech under rules and policies that are reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. The controlling interest being safety and security of the public, staff, institution and prisoners.
Our state legislature recognized the significance of balancing our right of free speech and legitimate penological interests by enacting RCW 72.09.530. RCW 72.09.530 requires the DOC to adopt a uniform policy to limit the introduction of contraband into institutions, while protecting the interests of the public and prisoners in the exchange of ideas. In response to RCW 72.09.530 the DOC created DOC Policy 450.100 Mail for Prison Offenders. See also Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 137-48-010.
All incoming/outgoing mail, including Jpay emessages, may be inspected by the facility superintendent/designee. However, those who inspect prisoner mail are prohibited from disclosing the contents except for official business. See WAC 137-48-030(1) and (2) DOC 450.100 Directive (III).
Incoming/outgoing mail may be restricted: withheld from delivery, for anyone of some 39 reasons. However, these restrictions must be accompanied by written notification to both the recipient and sender, identifying the specific reason justifying the restriction, while advising the recipient/sender of their right to appeal. See WAC 137-48-050(1) DOC 450.100 Directive (IX)(A)(3).
If you receive a rejection you must appeal to the facility superintendent/designee within ten calendar days. See WAC 137-48-050(1)(2) DOC 450.100 Directive (IX)(A)(3). The superintendent has ten business days to respond to your appeal, reversing or up holding the rejection. See WAC 137-48-050(3) DOC 450.100 Directiv (IX)(B) see also DOC 110.300 Directive (I)(A)(4).
If the facility superintendent up holds the rejection, you have ten calendar days from receipt of the appeal denial to appeal to the secretary of DOC, or his designee. See WAC 137-48-050(4).
I believe one of most insidious games staff play with prisoner mail involves the return of incoming mail without issuing a rejection to the prisoner, thereby leaving them in the dark about your effort to share your thoughts with them.
The alleged reason justifying this type of conduct is “Unable to Locate” or “Unable to Identify.” Under these reasons a mailroom employee can return the mail without a rejection as long as the letter is not opened. See DOC 450.100 Directive (IV)(B). I say this is a game, because in a significant number of incidents involving this tactic, the front of the envelope actually has the prisoner’s name and DOC number, or it has the prisoner’s name and cell number, allowing staff to properly identify and/or locate the prisoner.
You see, each facility has an Inmate Alpha Roster, or equivalent record, showing the prisoner’s name, DOC number and cell assignment. There is only one prisoner with that name, with that DOC number, assigned to that specific cell number, at that facility. It is vital that you keep the envelope and make a copy to be used as evidence in the prisoner’s grievance process or other form of redress.
If mail to your loved one or friend is returned to you for either of the reasons cited above, go to David’s Heart Part VII Accountability Act and follow the instructions.
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Categories: Michael Holmberg