In February, new rules were adopted that prohibit inmates from sending or receiving letters. Inmates can receive or send postcards only. Legal documents are exempt.
Muskegon County Sheriff Dean Roesler cites security reasons for changing the policy earlier this year. He says people send drugs, razor blades, and other contraband inside letters to inmates.
“I can’t give you a specific number of times that we’ve dealt with that, but my perspective as sheriff you know in a facility that needs to be as secure as possible, one is too many.”
About 20 protestors gathered in front of the Muskegon Count Jail today to rally against the policy.
Faith Groesback was among them.
“What do you have to do to ensure that contraband doesn’t come in through a letter? You run it through a metal detector, you have a dog sniff it, you have somebody open it and shake it; it’s not that complicated.”
She argues the policy violates inmates and their loved ones’ privacy and freedom of speech.
“If you’ve ever been, had a relationship of any kind with somebody in that situation, you’d understand how vitally important those letters are and what they mean to them.”
Mal Williams, also of Muskegon, found out about the policy from a friend of his that’s inside the jail just yards away from him.
“Just think what we would’ve lost if we had not let Dr. King write letter when he was in Birmingham Jail. There’s a lot of issues involved here. Its starts off with a letter and then the next thing you know you’re losing something else.”
Sheriff Roesler says inmates’ speech is not stifled because they can send as many postcards as they want.
“Courts have recognized that certain rights are restricted when you come into jail or prison and in the interest of the security of the institution, sometimes we do have to restrict those rights.”
About a half a dozen other county jails in Michigan have similar post-card-only policies.
A county in Colorado reversed its post-card-only policy late last year after the ACLU threatened legal action.
The ACLU of Michigan says they have been looking into 'post-card-only' policies in the state.