First Amendment Issues

ATTORNEY INFORMATION re the new PA DOC Legal Mail protocols

PA DOC LEGAL MAIL: ATTORNEY INFO

Beginning April 6, 2019, the DOC will not copy legal mail.

Attorneys should send all legal correspondence to the prison, NOT Smart Communications. That mail will be opened in their presence and they will be given the original.

If your client received legal mail while the DOC was copying and confiscating legal mail, the DOC will be contacting them to decide whether to immediately destroy or return that mail.

Visit the DOC’s website (www.cor.pa.gov) and sign up for a new attorney control number. Include a valid email address as the DOC will be emailing you a WEEKLY code in addition to your control number.

When sending mail:
1. Place the attorney control number on a removable sticker on the outside of the envelope.
2. Place a second removable sticker on the outside of the envelope with the current weekly code.

ALL LEGAL MAIL WITHOUT A VALID ATTORNEY CONTROL NUMBER WILL BE RETURNED TO SENDER. If the mail has a valid control number, but not a valid weekly code, the DOC will contact you via phone and/or email to verify that you sent the mail before delivering.

Under the new policy, attorneys can no longer send any documents that were not printed/copied in their offices. This means attorneys cannot return original documents (grievances, etc) to people in DOC custody. Attorneys have until July 7, 2019, to return any originals currently in their possession. After that, if there are extenuating circumstances, attorneys can contact the business office of the prison, or the Office of Chief Counsel to make arrangements.

If you experience any issues or have any concerns with your legal mail under this new policy, please contact Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, staff attorney in the Pittsburgh office of PILP via email (amorgan-kurtz@pailp.org).

Please click HERE for a printable version of this document.

FAQ: Your rights re the new Legal Mail protocol. Beginning April 6, 2019, the DOC will NOT copy legal mail!

 

PA DOC Legal Mail: Info Sheet 

Beginning April 6, 2019, the DOC will not copy legal mail.

Attorneys should send all legal correspondence to you at the prison where you are located.  That mail will be opened in your presence and you will be given the original. 

If you received legal mail while the DOC was copying and confiscating legal mail, the DOC should be contacting you.  You will be allowed to choose whether your original mail is immediately destroyed, or returned to sender (at no cost to you).

IMPORTANT CHANGE TO LEGAL MAIL: Under the new policy, attorneys can no longer send you any documents that were not printed/copied in their offices.  This means attorneys cannot return original documents you send them. 

You have a choice:

·  Keep your originals and mail your attorneys a copy OR

·  Mail your originals to your attorney and have them send you copies.

In light of this change, the DOC will be increasing the amount of money available to indigent individuals for copying.  You will also no longer be required to submit original documents in grievance or misconduct appeals. 

You should tell your attorneys that under the DOC’s new policy, they must sign up for a new attorney control number.  Your attorney must provide an accurate email address, as the DOC will be emailing a weekly code that must also be placed on the outside of legal mail.  Attorneys can request a new control number by visiting the DOC’s website, www.cor.pa.gov.  For more information on how these changes affect attorneys, they can also visit PILP’s website, www.pailp.org.

If your legal mail…

·  is copied after April 6, 2019

·  is returned to your attorney

·  is significantly delayed

·  or there are any other issues 

File a grievance immediately.

Write to the Pittsburgh office of PILP: 100 Fifth Ave, Ste 900, Pittsburgh, Pa 15222.

Click HERE for a printable version of this information

BREAKING: Civil Rights Groups and PA Department of Corrections Near Settlement of Lawsuit Over Legal Mail

February 22, 2019

HARRISBURG – Lawyers for four civil rights organizations and one person who is currently incarcerated announced today that they are finalizing the details of a settlement of their lawsuits challenging the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ policy of copying and storing legal mail. The four organizations challenging the policy issued the following statement in response to the developments in the case:

“We appreciate that the department has agreed that, beginning April 6, they will stop copying and storing prisoners’ legal mail. The revised screening procedures will respect the rights of prisoners to confidential and privileged attorney-client communications without compromising the department's efforts to prohibit drug use in the prisons.”

The organizational plaintiffs, Pennsylvania’s four largest prisoners’ rights groups, are the Abolitionist Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Amistad Law Project, and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP). Volunteer attorneys from the law firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, led by partner Keith Whitson, are also representing the plaintiffs. PILP, et al. v. Wetzel was combined with another challenge, Hayes v. Wetzel, which was brought by Davon Hayes, who is a prisoner at SCI-Smithfield in Huntingdon.

More information is available at aclupa.org/PILP.

Pennsylvania prisons to roll back unprecedented mail policy in legal settlement

February 22, 2019 | The Philadelphia Inquirer | Samantha Melamed

As part of a legal settlement expected to be finalized in March, Pennsylvania’s state prisons will rescind a six-month-old policy lawyers said made it impossible for them to communicate confidentially with clients.

The controversial policy, under which legal mail was intercepted, photocopied, and then destroyed, had been announced last September as one of a series of new security measures — many without precedent in a state prison setting — intended to prevent the smuggling of drugs into the prisons. Four civil rights groups and a state prison inmate had filed suit in federal court seeking an emergency injunction.

Beginning April 6, the prisons will revert to some variation on the previous system, which did not involve photocopying and relied on individual attorney-identification numbers to track legal mail.

Read more →

Pennsylvania restricts inmate mail. Prison drugs are down. But is it legal? A federal judge will decide

February 19, 2019 | The Morning Call | Steve Esack

Criminal defense lawyers, including those who work with death row inmates, stopped sending legal documents in the mail to Pennsylvania prison inmates for fear their privacy was being compromised by government officials, according to testimony at a federal hearing Tuesday.

The lawyers testified in support of two consolidated lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg. The lawsuits challenge the legality of a 2018 state policy of screening inmates’ mail for synthetic drugs.

The Department of Corrections’ policy prohibits inmates from getting mail delivered directly from lawyers, family and friends. It was instituted last summer in an attempt to stem an influx of illegal synthetic drugs, primarily k2, from being dipped and dried onto mail. The influx led to a rash of security and medical problems, and a 12-day lockdown of all state prisons.

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Under pressure, Pa. prisons repeal restrictive book policy

November 2, 2018 | Samantha Melamed | The Philadelphia Inquirer

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections — which in September announced it would put a halt to book donation programs and mail-order books and publications — has revised its policy, allowing book orders to resume through a new centralized processing center.

"Everyone who got involved called Gov. Wolf, wrote letters, shared the story on social media — it was really public pressure, we believe, that led to the DOC updating their policy to allow us to again send books directly to inmates," said Jodi Lincoln, an organizer with Book 'Em, a book donation program based in Pittsburgh. "It's a good sign that our state system and elected representatives actually sometimes listen."

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Protesting DOC’s new book ban and mail scans - What qualifies as Prison Rights ?

October 20, 2018 | Cherri Gregg | Flashpoint on KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- This week on Flashpoint, host and KYW Newsradio Community Affairs reporter Cherri Gregg asks the burning questions about a recent policy change at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. DOC officials have ordered that all inmate mail is to be sent to a processing facility, in Florida, where it is scanned and then photo copies are set to the prisoners. In recent weeks, protests in Philadelphia and Harrisburg are calling for Gov. Tom Wolf to reverse the policy. This week on Flashpoint we'll walk folks through the flames of the inmates’ rights. Su Ming Yeh, managing attorney at the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, Dr. Brian O'Neill, criminal justice radio host and West Chester University associate professor, and Michael Wilson a former juvenile lifer who spent nearly 47 years behind bars discuss various aspects of the new policies.

Listen here (first 20 minutes of the program) →

ACLU prepares to sue Pa. prisons over new mail policy

October 2, 2018 | Samantha Melamed | The Philadelphia Inquirer

Ever since the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections announced a new, unprecedented policy for handling legal mail — part of a wide-ranging crackdown meant to stanch the flow of drugs into state prisons — criminal and civil lawyers who represent inmates have been in panic mode.

Many, including staff lawyers with the Pennsylvania ACLU, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and private firms, said they can no longer ethically send confidential documents to clients, given the potential for exposure in the DOC's new protocol. Before, staff opened legal mail in the presence of inmates, searched it for contraband and handed it over; now they photocopy it, still in the inmate's presence, pass on the copy, and preserve the original for 45 days.

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