Inmates in United States prisons and jails are allowed to send and receive mail. Doing so is actually a right that inmates have, so if you find that you are being denied your mail rights, you could seek help. Keep in mind that there are some things that inmates cannot do when it comes to mail and some ways in which their privacy may be infringed upon. This is not necessarily against the law. You can learn more about mail rights, situations where your rights are or are not violated, and how to get help, here.
Prisoner Mail Rights
Inmates have the following rights when it comes to sending and receiving mail in prison:
- Under the Constitution’s First Amendment, prisoners are entitled to receive and send mail. However, keep in mind that the correctional facility has the right to inspect that mail. They even have the right to censor the mail in some situations, particularly if the contents of the mail threaten prison security.
- A prison official’s right to censor or even inspect mail depends on the mail’s status. If it is privileged mail, they cannot read the contents. Privileged mail includes mail from a legal representative or counsel. If the mail is non-privileged, such as mail from loved ones, prison officials can inspect it without needing to first obtain a warrant. Officials don’t even need probable cause to open this mail.
- Outgoing non-privileged mail can be censored in the event that it poses a legitimate prison security issue. However, prison officials can’t just censor mail because they don’t like its contents.
- Prison officials are allowed to open incoming privileged mail to check for contraband. However, they need to do this in front of you and they cannot read the contents of the mail itself without a warrant. Any outgoing privileged mail cannot be read by prison officials.
- If your mail contains content to be posted on the Internet with the help of someone else, this is allowed. The prison officials cannot censor this mail.
- If you have incoming mail that gets censored, you have the right to know why. The sender of the mail also has the right to be notified as to the censorship and the reason for it. You are allowed to challenge this censorship based on the notice that you receive.
What to Do If Your Mail Rights Are Violated
As you can see, there are several instances where your privacy may be infringed upon, but this does not necessarily mean that your rights have been violated. However, if you think that your mail rights have been violated based on the scenarios posed above, the first step that you should take is filing a grievance. If necessary, you should also appeal the grievance at every available appeal level. For each separate event that you face a mail issue, you should file a grievance. This could help you in your chances of winning a lawsuit in the future.