Feds Threatening First Amendment with New Policies
I am writing you this letter to bring to your attention a serious situation that is about to occur at this facility. On 16 March 2020, the Acting Warden is about to implement a Draconian, repressive, and extremely restrictive mail policy. This policy DOES NOT conform to the Code of Federal Regulations and is in violation of the United States Postal Regulation.
This policy includes the ability to arbitrarily censor a prisoner’s mail without warning and without providing any notification that it is being done. This new policy affects ALL General Correspondence, which includes letters from families, the courts, religious organizations, financial institutions, and every other type of correspondence that is not a newspaper, magazine, or book.
The institution is using the influx of “spice” (synthetic marijuana) as an excuse to enact this policy. A review of the existing Code of Federal Regulations already gives the institution authority to place a specific prisoner on a restrictive mail policy for specific reasons (such as introducing or using drugs). This new policy affects everybody, even though the population that is abusing the drugs is less than 5%.
Also, the local warden shouldn’t be allowed to enact new rules at the local level. I wish to provide an example. Let’s say that every local postmaster could enact local rules. A postmaster in San Francisco could raise the postage by $0.15 per stamp. A postmaster in Chicago could end deliveries on Saturdays. A postmaster in New York could dictate that only mail weighing less than 10oz can be delivered. If every local postmaster could enact their own postal rules at whim, this would completely disrupt the delivery of mail across the country, and I am certain the public wouldn’t allow it.
The most egregious rules are:
All correspondence must be on white paper and in white envelopes, or it will be rejected. The problem with this is that most courts, and many businesses, mail documents in manila envelopes.
All accepted correspondence and photos will be removed from the envelopes and photocopied. The photocopy will be delivered to the prisoner and the originals will be destroyed. Basically, the Acting Warden has changed the rules so that he can destroy your property without your permission. How can an prisoner know if something even arrived? The mailroom can simply destroy it and no one would be the wiser. There is no law or federal rule which authorizes the warden to open up people’s mail and make photocopies. Think of the privacy concerns. Suddenly the institution is now storing a digital copy of your private mail somewhere. Are they keeping this in a database for future review?
I ask the reader to think of the importance of photos in your life. Childhood photos, wedding photos, graduation photos, vacation photos, etc. For prisoners who cannot have visits and are locked up for decades, photos are the single most important way to convey information of loved ones. To simply replace a quality photo with a cheap photocopy completely diminishes this important visual connection AND since there is NO EVIDENCE that photos can be used to hide drugs, this new rule is arbitrary and capricious and only serves to increases the hardships and burdens of being in prison.
You (the public) pay the United States Post Office (USPS) a fee to deliver the mail to the recipient (prisoner). The prisoner has signed a CONTRACT with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to allow them to open and check the envelope for contraband, then deliver the envelope with the contents. Now the Warden is violating the terms of this contract without having the prisoner sign a new contract.
Since this is a NEW RULE, ONLY the agency itself can make this type of change. In order to do so the agency MUST submit the proposed rule change to the Director of the Federal Register, who will publish it so the public can review and comment on the changes. If each local Warden can suddenly change the rules without following this process, what stops them from limiting the number of hours to access religious services, visiting, or access to medical services?
- All correspondence shall have no more than five pieces of white, single-sided, 8.5" x 11" paper per envelope. A person can currently mail much more than 5 pieces of paper in an envelope at a cost of $0.15 per additional ounce. This new rule effectively increases the cost to send any additional ounces to $0.55. This will negatively impact the poor.
Also, many organizations, legal firms, businesses, NEED to send in more than 5 pages, or print on both sides. This new policy will allow the Warden unlimited power to arbitrarily reject mail he doesn’t like (ACLU, Prison Legal News, etc.), under the guise that it violates the page limit rule. Again, there is no security risk to printing on both sides of a piece of paper or mailing more than 5 pieces in the same envelope.
- All incoming correspondence shall have envelopes which DO NOT have mailing labels. All addresses must be written in ink. Many organizations, legal firms, businesses utilize mailing labels to reduce costs. Again, this policy allows the Warden to arbitrarily reject mail that he doesn’t want.
These are just SOME of the new rules the acting warden plans on implementing on 16 March 2020. This will have numerous negative effects upon BOTH the public and the prison population. Further, if local wardens are suddenly granted the power to create any new rule they desire, without going through the proper process, then the entire federal system can be abused by a local authority, WITHOUT THE PUBLIC’S KNOWLEDGE!! The Warden ALREADY has UNDER EXISTING POLICY to reject ANY Correspondence if it is deemed to have contraband. What ISN’T ALLOWED is for the Warden to REJECT the Correspondence of ALL PRISONERS simply because of the Warden’s belief that contraband COULD be in a particular piece of mail.
As prisoners, we are often forgotten. Everybody hears and sees the stories of family separation of people from other countries at our border. But what about the ongoing family separation of our citizens confined within our prisons? As prisoners confined within these prison walls, our resources are limited to fight this “EXTREMELY RESTRICTIVE” mail policy. Most prisoners want to take action but worry about being harassed and retaliated against by staff when they make their complaints known. I know this from personal experience. MY personal property has been gone through and destroyed. My mail is being rejected or “lost.” I have been threatened with sanctions and retaliatory transfer.
WE NEED YOUR HELP!!! Please contact your local federal representative (Congressperson or Senator), the Western Regional Director, The BOP Director, the Director of the Federal Register, the Postmaster General, post this to your Facebook page, make your feelings known on Twitter, contact a media representative and ask them to investigate, make a request to a civil rights organization (ACLU, FAMM, etc.) or a religious organization and ask for their assistance.
MIM(Prisons) adds: For those of us involved in supporting prisoners we know that the First Amendment rights to free speech and association are a constant battle in this country. Fighting censorship in prisons and combating the unaccountable grievance system where prisoners are punished for voicing such concerns are part of defending the basic civil rights of oppressed peoples here in these United $tates.
These petty rules, like the Michigan prison that recently censored our mail for having postage stamps on it, are a blatant effort to silence certain voices and to needlessly deprive prisoners of the things that can help them.
FCI Lompoc can be contacted at: 3600 GUARD ROAD LOMPOC, CA 93436 Email: LOX/[email protected] Phone: 805-736-4154
We encourage people to write and call to express their concerns about the proposed policies. It seems that they may have already gone into place based on the timeline our comrade provided above. We will update this article as we find out more. Please email us with your updates or any reports on your attempts to contact the BOP on this issue.