Missouri Jail’s “Postcard Only” Policy Upheld

This is another case involving prisons and mail.

The Cape Girardeau County Jail in southeast Missouri has a somewhat restrictive mail policy for inmates: incoming non-legal mail may be on postcards only.  Although there is no limit to the number of postcards than an inmate may receive (although only 10 at a time may be retained by the inmate in his cell), the jail imposes additional restrictions on the postcards: no photographs; no depictions of nudity, weapons, alcohol, or gang references; and no “bio-hazards, including lipsticks or perfumes.”

Cheryl Simpson—whose son Trey is incarcerated in the jail—sued, claiming that the jail’s policy violates the First Amendment because it restricts Ms. Simpson’s ability to communicate with her son.  Before the jail’s policy went into effect, Ms. Simpson wrote her son lengthy letters.  Now, she claims, she must write her messages piecemeal on the postcards, number the postcards so that her son knows the order in which to read them, and limit her messages to what fits on 10 postcards—because that’s all he can keep in his cell.

The Eighth Circuit rejected Ms. Simpson’s arguments and upheld the policy.  The Court found that the policy was not meant to suppress expression, but rather was meant to improve jail efficiency and security.  The postcard-only policy reduces the amount of time that the jail spends screening incoming mail and reduces the risk of inmates obtaining contraband.  The Court also found that Ms. Simpson had alternative means of communicating with her son because the jail permits inmates to make phone calls, and the jail has visiting hours on Saturdays.

Case: Simpson v. Cty. of Cape Girardeau, Mo., No. 16-3682 (8th Cir. Jan. 2, 2018) (opinion here)

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