September 21, 2017

 

For Media Inquiries Contact: Ned Sackman, Esq., Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson, P.A., 603-665-8844, nsackman@bernsteinshur.com

CONCORD - Yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire (ACLU-NH) successfully settled its federal lawsuit challenging under the First Amendment the mail policy of the New Hampshire Department of Corrections (NHDOC) banning inmates from receiving all original handwritten drawings and pictures in the mail. 

In response to the lawsuit, the NHDOC’s new mail policy will—rather than ban all original handwritten drawings and pictures—allow certain original handwritten drawings and pictures that are done in pen or pencil.  As a result, the new mail policy will—like other state prison mail policies in the country—continue to ban handwritten drawings and pictures that contain markers, crayons, colored pencil, glitter, chalk, lipstick, or adhesive material.  These precautions exist in an effort to prevent Suboxone from being smuggled into prison facilities through the mail.  Greeting cards, given their thickness, will continue to be prohibited under the new policy.

The ACLU-NH filed this federal lawsuit on December 18, 2015 on behalf of a prisoner’s mother (YF) and 3-year-old son (CF).  In the fall of 2015, YF mailed her imprisoned son a drawing with the text “I [LOVE] U DADDY” handwritten by CF. The prison returned the drawing, apparently because it violated the mail policy.  The ACLU-NH also represented a prisoner’s wife (AR) and her 12-year-old son (XG) who sent drawings to AR’s husband that the NHDOC rejected.  The lawsuit alleged that the mail policy violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.  The plaintiffs were represented by Ned Sackman and Hilary Holmes Rheaume of the law firm Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson, P.A and Gilles Bissonnette, the ACLU-NH’s legal director.

“This settlement is a victory for the First Amendment rights of prison inmates and their families,” said Ned Sackman, who was lead counsel on the case.  “We are pleased that the NHDOC has reversed its policy of banning all original handwritten drawings and pictures.  Under the original policy we challenged, the State had eliminated one of the few ways young children could communicate with parents who are in prison.  The challenged policy was not only devastating for families—especially those who are low income and live far away from the State prison—but also counterproductive.  Maintaining family bonds is critical for prisoners to successfully reintegrate into society upon release.”

“We do not doubt that Suboxone has been a problem in New Hampshire’s prisons,” said Gilles Bissonnette, the ACLU-NH’s legal director who was co-counsel on the case.  “But banning all drawings is not the answer.  The policy we challenged was among the most restrictive state prison mail policies in the country.  We are relieved that the NHDOC has now agreed to address this issue without indiscriminately banning all innocent speech sent to inmates in the form or drawings and pictures.  As we have argued since this policy was first implemented in 2015, instead of saying ‘no’ to all drawings, the State should tailor its policies and procedures to the exact ways Suboxone has been sent through the mail (i.e., through adhesives and colored drawings).  This new policy does exactly that, and we are thankful that the NHDOC has adopted this approach.” 

For more information about this case, go to: https://www.aclu-nh.org/en/cases/yf-et-al-v-nh-department-corrections

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