Boulder County pays ACLU $65,000 to settle lawsuit over postcard-only jail policy

colorado postcard.jpg
This week, the Boulder County jail is expected to formally end its policy of restricting inmate mail to postcards only -- and commissioners agreed to pay the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado $65,000 to settle a lawsuit over an issue that an ACLU spokeswoman hopes is now dead in the state.

The postcards-only approach got its start in Boulder thanks to one Gino Rael, a child sex offender accused of sending letters to young girls whose photos he saw in the newspaper. He's said to have asked the recipients "to start a dialogue," complimented them on their cool names, and announced that they were special enough to receive a missive from him and his roommate (Damien Whitehead, another registered sex offender) -- a pair dedicated to bringing back "old-fashioned letter writing."

gino rael.jpg
Gino Rael.
Of course, authorities would have looked askance at this correspondence under any circumstances. But that Rael sent the letters from jail really sent Division Chief Larry Hank over the edge. He told Westword he thought such problems could be prevented by going to a postcard-only mail policy of the sort that had been instituted in El Paso County, so that jail staffers could make sure nothing improper and potentially illegal was being shipped out.

In August 2010, after the policy was put in place, the ACLU argued in a lawsuit against Boulder County that the postcard plan unconstitutionally limited detainees' right to free speech by forcing them to squeeze all of their words onto a small rectangle and also infringed on their right to have private communication with loved ones, doctors and the like.

The writing's been on the wall in regard to the Boulder policy since December, when El Paso County dumped its postcard policy in the face of a U.S. District Court hearing. On March 21, Boulder County agreed to do likewise within 21 days, with the $65,000 payment intended to cover attorneys fees racked up by the ACLU.

But this sum is less important to ACLU communications director Rosemary Harris Lytle than is the principle that detainees, "some of whom have not yet been convicted of a crime, will be able to resume communications with members of their family, members of the clergy, and perhaps medical professionals -- conversations that should rightfully be protected by privacy rights.

"It is our expectation that with the settlement, as well as the one in El Paso County, will end the practice of postcard-only jail communication in Colorado," she continues. "There are currently no other jails that have such a policy here. But we do also hope it sends a wider message to those around the country who would infringe upon the basic right to communicate with those who are outside of jail.

"Those who are incarcerated face an infringement of their rights, but so do those who they're communicating with about private matters like child-rearing issues and religious issues. And their rights are also infringed upon by these polices. So we hope the settlement in both these lawsuits will send a message that even though you're detained or incarcerated, there are still some rights that courts will uphold, and that organizations like the ACLU will fight to protect."

More from our News archive: "ACLU files claim against ICE for harassing U.S. citizens en route to Amway convention."

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bigriggs
bigriggs

Fuck the aclu. These "people" are criminals and deserve zero special priveleges....

solar_satellite
solar_satellite

Fascists should be deprived of their citizenship and expelled from this country.

Prisoners (convicted of whatever offense) still have the right to write letters to people outside. There are an awful lot of stupid people in Denver and Boulder who keep electing politicians who throw away the People's money trying to maintain indefensible policies, such as trying to prevent prisoners from writing letters, or permitting police to commit false arrest and to brutalize suspects. I am sure Boulder can afford to blow another $65,000, but Denver is hurting and faces the prospect of more hefty settlements and losses in the near future. I hope the ACLU puts the money to good use; the abuse of power in Colorado really merits reverting the state to territorial status, but maybe a few suits can help. By supporting violations of the Law by your own government, you support the ACLU when it is justly awarded legal fees for correcting the criminals you have elected to office and the bureaucrats with whom they conspire.

bigriggs
bigriggs

The aclu is a bunch of whiny punks more concerned with criminals feelings not getting hurt than law abiding citizens.

bigriggs
bigriggs

Byron, god forbid we actually punish a criminal for their crimes.Once a criminal is incarerated, then fuck all rights. BooHoo about the size of a post card. If correspondence with a family is so damn important, then don't break the law and go to prison. Take away all forms of communication for criminals. No tv, computer, correspondance (no matter how small or big, again, boofuckinghoo). Quit treating them like they jaywalked.

Byron
Byron

The ACLU was not just representing criminals. It was also looking out for the rights of the families and friends of the inmates to receive correspondence, and it was fighting the physical limitations placed on expression, due to the small size of the postcard. Of course, we would all hope and love to be more succint and to the point in our expression, for example;

eat shit and fuck yourself, ignoramus.

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