In this Aug. 18, 2020, file photo, mail delivery vehicles are parked outside a post office in Boys Town, Neb. Credit: Nati Harnik / AP

The U.S. Postal Service has informed the Maine State Prison that the facility will have to pay for new postage in order to return any mail that staff has opened.

For years, the Warren Post Office has been allowing the prison to send returned mail without new postage if prison staff determines the mail does not meet its standards after opening it. That, according to Maine Department of Corrections officials, was an oversight. Prison staff were not aware that U.S. Postal Service policy requires new postage for any mail that has been opened and resealed in order for it to be mailed out.

New restrictions on the type of mail inmates can receive has caused an increase in Maine State Prison staff returning opened mail to senders. While the prison does not keep track of the exact number, prison staff estimates that about 20 to 30 pieces of mail are being returned daily under the new mail policy.

In the past, a postmaster brought questions about this policy to regional managers, but never got a clear answer, so the practice of allowing the Maine State Prison to return mail that has been opened without new postage continued, according to U.S. Postal Service spokesperson Stephen Doherty.

That’s now changing. The Warren postmaster has contacted prison officials to remedy the issue, Doherty said.

“There is no wrongdoing on anyone’s part,” Doherty said. “It’s fallen through the cracks.”

All Maine Department of Corrections facilities have been following the same mail policy as the Maine State Prison, according to spokesperson Anna Black. But to her knowledge, “they have not had an issue or been contacted by their local post office.”

Black did not respond to questions asking how much it would cost the Department of Corrections to put new postage on returned mail.

Since discovering that postage policy was not being followed in Warren, the U.S. Postal Service is working to contact correctional facilities in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont regarding its returned mail policy as a reminder, though Doherty said the issue does not appear to be widespread. It’s unclear how long the practice has been happening in Warren, but Doherty estimates that it has been going on for a long period of time.

The post offices that serve those facilities are also being trained on returned mail policy, he said.

To stem the flow of contraband into prisons, the Maine Department of Corrections opens mail addressed to inmates to ensure that it meets department standards. If the mail does not meet these standards, it is returned to the sender.

At the Maine State Prison in Warren, when mail does not meet the standards, mail room staff simply reseals the envelope or package with tape and returns it to the postal carrier using the existing postage on the mail.

While some mail can be returned under existing postage, once the mail is opened, Doherty said new postage is required.

“Once they open it they own it basically,” Doherty said. “If they repackage it to send it back, they have to put new postage on it.”