AUGUSTA, Maine — A federal magistrate has recommended that a lawsuit brought by inmates challenging the constitutionality of state prison mail policies go forward as a class action.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John Rich III made his recommendation March 4 in a case brought by individual state prison inmates and an inmate organization called the Long Timers Group. Their lawsuit takes issue with the prison’s mail screening policy, which was adopted in August 2003.
Prisoners allege that their mail has been improperly withheld, confiscated or destroyed by corrections employees.
Assistant Attorney General Diane Sleek, who represents the state Corrections Department, said Thursday the state did not oppose the prisoners’ request for a class action.
Sleek would not comment on the inmates’ complaints because the case is in litigation. But the state has denied the allegations in documents filed with the court. It’s not yet clear when a trial will be held.
The policy being challenged says each facility in the state corrections system “shall maintain practices to inspect, read, and restrict prisoner mail” to prevent the introduction of contraband, ensure the safety of prisoners and staff, maintain security and prevent criminal activity.
In their suit, inmates allege items such as religious books, magazines, newspaper articles, photographs from family members and material of a “mature content” have been withheld, confiscated or destroyed. One prisoner claims a letter from his 4-year-old daughter was confiscated and returned to her.
The prisoners say that in some cases they were given no notice or opportunity to be heard before the destruction of their mail.
Their suit claims the prison’s mail policy violates their constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech and due process.
In denying the claims, the state said it lacks the resources to inspect every piece of mail to determine whether it meets the provisions of the mail policy.