Following a national trend, the Ventura County, Calif., jail is requiring that inmates send and receive only postcards, says the Los Angeles Times. Over the years, contraband of all kinds has made its way into the facility in letters, officials said. Razor blades, drugs and coded messages from gangs have been sneaked in. “We have to take the stamps off envelopes because they’ll put drugs on the back that inmates will then be able to lick,” said Cmdr. Brent Morris, who runs one of the county’s two jails. As of Oct. 4, letters other than those from lawyers will be marked “return to sender.” The same goes for postcards with racist references, obscenities, nudity, gang symbols and, under the new rules, “any perceived biohazard (i.e. lipstick, gloss, scents, etc.).”
Cash-strapped local officials in at least seven states have instituted similar postcard-only policies, in part to cut down on the staff time required to open sealed envelopes. One of the first was Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the self-styled “toughest sheriff in America” who runs a famously spartan jail in Phoenix. An inmate representing himself sued Arpaio over the restrictions and lost. But American Civil Liberties Union lawsuits filed over the last two months in Florida and Colorado have yet to reach court. “There’s no question that this is a serious abridgement of the 1st Amendment rights both of detainees and people on the outside who want to correspond with them,” said David Fathi, the Washington, D.C.-based director of ACLU’s National Prison Project.