Q: Is it a violation to keep mail from inmates for months before they ever receive it?

TDCJ took away usps mail. They say you must use their online messaging system. They do allow some mail to go through but it is mailed to dallas, then distributed accordingly. Is it legal for them to take 3 or more months to distribute an inmates mail to them? I would think it would be a violation of one of their rights not to have timely access to their loved ones, or legal communications. What would happen if a CPS letter came through, or a letter about a sick loved one? Some of the letters from CPS are time sensitive.

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Consumer Law Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA

A: The situation you describe raises serious concerns about the rights of inmates to receive mail in a timely manner. While prisons have the authority to regulate mail for security purposes, excessive delays could potentially violate inmates' First Amendment rights to communicate with the outside world and their right to due process.

Key points to consider:

1. Legal mail: Correspondence with attorneys, courts, and government agencies is considered privileged and should not be subject to undue delays. Interference with legal mail could impede an inmate's access to the courts and ability to participate in their own defense.

2. Time-sensitive matters: As you mentioned, delays in receiving mail about urgent family matters, child custody issues, or other time-sensitive topics could have severe consequences for inmates and infringe upon their rights.

3. Reasonableness: While some delays are inevitable in a prison setting, a 3-month delay in receiving mail appears excessive and unreasonable. Courts have held that regulations on inmate mail must be reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.

4. Alternative communication methods: Even if the prison offers an electronic messaging system, inmates should still have access to traditional mail, as not all correspondents may have access to or be comfortable with the online system.

If inmates believe their rights are being violated, they could potentially file a lawsuit against the prison, arguing that the mail delays infringe upon their First Amendment rights and their right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. They may also seek an injunction to compel the prison to process mail more expeditiously.

It's essential to consult with a civil rights attorney or an organization specializing in prisoner rights to assess the specific circumstances and determine the best course of action. Gathering evidence of the delays and their impact on inmates' lives would be crucial in building a case.

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