Victory: Court Rejects Jail’s Postcard-Only Rule As Unlawful Infringement of Prisoners’ First Amendment Rights
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — In a victory for prisoners’ rights, a federal appeals court has given the green light to a First Amendment lawsuit challenging an Arkansas county jail’s postcard-only policy that limits the mail prisoners can send and receive to postcards.
The ruling by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) v. Baxter County found that jail officials failed to show how prisoners could otherwise obtain newspapers, magazines and other printed material they are entitled to receive. The Rutherford Institute and a coalition of civil liberties groups, including R Street Institute, the Clark-Fox Family Foundation, Arch City Defenders and Americans for Prosperity, filed an amicus brief in support of the prisoners pointing to historic examples of prisoner communications—such as St. Paul’s epistles written from prison, the letters of Martin Luther King, Jr., and German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer—as examples of the kinds of writings that could be inhibited or prevented by the postcard-only rule.
Affiliate attorneys Mark Sableman, Michael L. Nepple, and Anthony F. Blum of Thompson Coburn LLP assisted in advancing the arguments in the HRDC brief.
“Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail is perhaps the most famous prison letter of modern times. But that letter would not have been allowed had these postcard-only policies been in effect,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Indeed, if King had been limited to postcards, his treatise on the need for racial justice in America would have filled 70 postcards and taken nearly five months to mail out under the current Arkansas jail policy.”