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Postcard policy at Land O'Lakes jail faces new challenge

LAND O'LAKES — Daniel Callaghan, a 69-year-old book seller and local activist, isn't giving up his fight for the hundreds of inmates housed at the county jail.

Callaghan has filed a new motion asking a judge to overturn the postcards-only policy for incoming mail at the Land O'Lakes jail. He points to a county in Washington state that rescinded a similar policy back in July after a legal battle with Prison Legal News, part of the nonprofit Human Rights Defense Center, and the American Civil Liberties Union. The Spokane County Commission dropped the envelope ban and paid a $230,000 settlement.

"In the light of recent decisions and pending lawsuits it is clear that such a policy is unconstitutional and that those suing in several states are likely to succeed in having this mail policy ended, in some instances, at great cost to the county government," Callaghan wrote in a motion filed Thursday.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office did not comment.

Callaghan first sued the Sheriff's Office in 2009 after it prohibited inmates from receiving letters in envelopes. Jail officials cited cost and security concerns. They said envelopes had been used to hide drugs.

Callaghan said the measure was extreme and violated inmates' constitutional rights.

A judge dismissed the suit in 2010 on procedural grounds.

Callaghan, who lives in New Port Richey, knows how important correspondence is to an inmate. He was one. He spent a month in pod A-600 at the jail in Land O'Lakes over Christmas 2008 — four years after New Port Richey police arrested him for obstructing the annual Chasco Fiesta parade. He lost at trial and went to jail after exhausting all appeals.

On an average day, there are 1,300 inmates at the jail in Land O'Lakes. There is usually one full-time employee in the mail room. Legally, inmates are required to get their mail within 24 hours of the jail receiving it. Each piece has to be opened and inspected — not only for content, such as sexually explicit materials or plans for escape, but for contraband hidden inside, such as drugs, weapons, tobacco, even bodily fluids. If a powder was inside the envelope, a hazardous materials team was brought in, the room sealed, all air conditioning vents shut down and other emergency procedures activated until it was declared safe.

Jail officials said it simply exhausted their resources.

The postcard policy still allows inmates to communicate with the outside world, and inmates can use envelopes to send outgoing mail, sheriff's officials have said.

But Callaghan has argued that's not the same thing. Last year he wrote a letter to an inmate, then copied it to postcards to demonstrate the impracticality of the policy.

It took seven postcards.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Postcard policy at Land O'Lakes jail faces new challenge 10/27/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 27, 2011 8:38pm]
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