Prison Puts New Postcard Rule on Hold - Albuquerque Journal

Prison Puts New Postcard Rule on Hold

A memo distributed to staff and inmates at the state prison in Las Cruces said that, beginning Monday, inmates would no longer be allowed to receive letters from family and friends. Instead, their incoming correspondence would be limited to plain, 3- by 5-inch postcards.

But Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel said late Wednesday that as a result of questions raised by inmate families and the Journal, that the implementation of the pilot program was being put on hold.

Marcantel told the Journal on Wednesday afternoon that the restrictions were necessary to stop drugs such as heroin and Suboxone from entering the 1,200-man prison. But in a follow-up telephone interview about 6 p.m., Marcantel said he was delaying the new mail restrictions because of questions raised by family members and the Journal.

“I’ve decided we have to think this through and get more community input,” Marcantel said. “Even internally our staff has raised some questions we need to address such as privacy of family members.”

The Journal on Wednesday afternoon obtained a copy of the memo outlining the changes that was written by warden Steve Nance and distributed to inmates and staff. It said the prison wouldn’t accept letters received after Sept. 24. Only postcards would be allowed and any that had designs, pictures, drawing or anything other than writing from the sender would be rejected.

Inmate-to-inmate mail would also be restricted to postcards. The new policy would not apply to letters from lawyers.

“We know that two of the main pipelines for drugs into the prisons are staff, vendor staff and the mail,” Marcantel said. “We’re trying to promote a safe environment for inmates, and we’re trying to cut those pipelines.”

Families who contacted the Journal about the new policy said the changes will hurt inmate links to family – an objection the department anticipated.

Family members have already started a petition drive asking Gov. Susana Martinez to block the new policy, which they say they have been led to believe would affect all prisons.

The way the new policy is designed, there is no restriction on the number of postcards family members could send an inmate. And inmates could still send letters to family members, although that wasn’t clear in the memo distributed to inmates.

Marcantel said the pilot program is directed at the prison in Las Cruces, because it has the most serious drug problem.

“We are looking into ways to continue to improve the communications inmates have with families,” Marcantel said. “We know that is an important component of inmate success in staying out of prison.”

For instance, he said the department is looking into increasing other forms of visitation, including tele-visits. Marcantel said, in the initial interview, that questions raised by family members who have contacted the department may lead to a delay in imposing the new mail restrictions.

The pilot program had been scheduled to be announced Friday in Las Cruces and Santa Fe at Corrections Department news conferences.

Family members said the memo released to inmates and staff at the prison seemed to contradict the spirit of the department’s existing regulations.

The regulations, revised in 2010 and in place since 1992, state that the department encourages correspondence between inmates and members of their families, as well as friends or associates with “no restrictions except those necessary to ensure the safety and security of the facilities and other persons.”

Under the current regulations, all incoming inmate mail can be opened and searched for contraband with the exception of so-called “legal” mail from an inmate’s attorney or a court.

Marcantel said the drug problem in the Las Cruces prison was more severe than other prisons around the state and that was why it was targeted for the pilot program.

“This is an evolving issue,” Marcantel said. “I’m sure we’re going to have to make adjustments and adapt the program as we go forward.”

For example, he said the department would have to look at how mail from religious organizations would be handled.

“Anything that reduces the amount of mail we have to inspect for contraband will help shut down the pipeline, but there are certain types of correspondence like information from social agencies that are needed for inmate parole plans that might have to be exempted,” he said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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