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Inmate Mail Rights in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania prisoners have had the privilege of mail for about as long as there have been prisoners in Pennsylvania. There are several benefits involved in allowing for prisoners to make use of the mail. The inmate benefits mentally from outside contact and their family and friends benefit by not losing their relationship altogether. Society may also see a benefit from this as well as oftentimes family and friends serve as a support system for an inmate, encouraging them to rehabilitate themselves. Although inmates have long since been given the privilege of receiving and sending mail, there are limitations to inmate mail rights. For both logistical and safety reasons mail exchanged with inmates is monitored heavily. A Pennsylvania Superior Court panel has recently taken on the review of one such case where an inmate alleges his mail was unconstitutionally being read by prison guards.

Prison Mail Rules & Regulations

The Pennsylvania regulations and restrictions on inmate mail rights are varied and extensive, with some stringent prison mail rules. An inmate is permitted to send up to 10 one-ounce letters per month at the expense of the Department of Corrections. Mail that is sent from a facility by an inmate is not searched or read by anyone else at the facility. The DOC has some restrictions on who an inmate may correspond with. For example, an inmate cannot contact a victim or victim’s family member freely, even through a third party. There are no general prison mail rules for an inmate writing to friends or family members. Another unregulated aspect of inmate-related mail is when it is sent to court officials or attorneys. Inmates are permitted to write confidentially to both their attorneys and court officials, without fear that prison staff might read the letters. The DOC only regulates this information by assigning a control number to the letters to and from attorneys and court staff. This number indicates to prison staff that letters are not be read without authorization.

Nifas Complaint Over Inmate Mail Rights

Rasheen Nifas is a state prison inmate in Pennsylvania. Nifas filed suit against two employees in his facility claiming that they read his mail to his attorneys, violating his inmate mail rights. The complaint alleges that this was in violation of both the law of the state of Pennsylvania and the Constitution of the United States. Nifas filed a “pauper” plea to be permitted to get around paying the legal fees associated with bringing his lawsuit against the prison facility. Somerset County Judge David C. Klementik denied the pauper plea. The Judge reasoned that Nifas never stated that the letters in question did not have a “control number” on them. Upon review Judge Victor P. Sable ruled that Judge Klementik applied the wrong legal principle. Judge Sable reasoned that regardless of the control number’s absence it was recognized that the mail in question was “legal” mail. The control number is a mechanism employed by the Department of Corrections but legal correspondence is off limits regardless. For this reason, Judge Sable overturned the ruling and sent the case to county court for reconsideration.

At Brownstone Law our team respects everyone’s right to privacy and understands the importance of the attorney-client privilege. We hope to see a smooth resolution of this problem.

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