The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire (ACLU-NH) and the law firm Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson, P.A. filed a federal lawsuit on December 18, 2015, on behalf of a prisoner’s mother and three-year-old son challenging the constitutionality of a mail policy imposed by the New Hampshire Department of Corrections (NHDOC) that prohibits prisoners from receiving greeting cards, picture postcards, and drawings in the mail. This policy violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
This fall, the prisoner’s mother (Y.F.) mailed her son a Thanksgiving card that also contained drawings by the prisoner’s son (C.F.). The card contained the text “I [LOVE] U DADDY” handwritten by C.F. The prison returned the card and drawings, apparently because they violated the mail policy in place since May 1 of this year.
“With this sweeping policy, the state has eliminated one of the few ways young children can communicate with parents who are in prison,” said Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director of the ACLU-NH. “This is not only cruel, but also counterproductive for New Hampshire’s over 2,300 prisoners and their families waiting for them to come home. Maintaining family bonds is critical for prisoners to successfully reintegrate into society upon release.”
The policy applies to all “drawings” or “other depictions,” all “greeting cards,” and all “postcards from particular locations or featuring any type of printed design, picture, or depiction.” The ban includes Christmas cards, as well as prayer cards with pre-printed images often sent to individual prisoners by religious organizations.
According to the NHDOC, the new policy was put in place to prevent drugs like Suboxone from being smuggled into the state’s prisons through the mail.
“We do not doubt that Suboxone is a problem in New Hampshire’s prisons. But the Department of Corrections should address this problem without indiscriminately banning innocent speech,” said Bissonnette. “Instead of saying ‘no’ to all greeting cards and drawings, the state could focus its policies and procedures on the exact ways Suboxone has been sent through the mail (i.e., through adhesives and seams in cardstock). Mail containing handwritten drawings and cardstock could also be more rigorously inspected by prison officials to determine if it contains Suboxone.”