The secular hellscape Bill O’Reilly warned us about is here!
Or, at least, it is real if you are unfortunate enough to be incarcerated in the state of New Hampshire. The ACLU of New Hampshire filed a lawsuit on Friday challenging the New Hampshire Department of Corrections policy prohibiting prisoners from receiving Christmas cards and drawings, including those made by the inmate’s own children.
The prison system’s incoming mail policy prohibits “’any drawings… or other depictions’ (including those in ink or pencil), as well as all ‘greeting cards’ and ‘postcards from particular locations or featuring any type of printed design, picture, or depiction,’” according to the complaint filed by the ACLU. The plaintiffs in the suit are Y.F., the parent of an inmate, and the inmate’s three year-old son, C.F.
The inmate is barred from receiving Christmas cards and drawings from his son, who is too young to write. Moreover, the complaint explains, this policy effectively cuts off the inmate’s best opportunity to communicate with his son, because his family is “low-income and live in a town that is an approximately 80-mile (or a 95-minute) drive from Concord State Prison,” an arrangement that makes in-person visits “difficult.”
Pursuant to the ban on cards and drawings, the prison prohibited the inmate from receiving a Thanksgiving card from C.F. with the words “I [LOVE] U DADDY.” It also kept this no doubt very dangerous piece of contraband out of the prison system:
The ACLU claims that the prison’s ban violates the First Amendment, citing cases establishing that the right to free expression encompasses the right to receive communications in the mail and not just the right to communicate.
For its part, the prison claims its policy is justified because cards, other thick stock paper, and drawings made with crayon or markers are a “major transmission source” for the drug Suboxone. Yet, according to the ACLU, “there is not a single incident documented where drugs were smuggled into the state’s prisons using handwritten drawings or pictures on regular, non-cardstock paper since 2010.” Moreover, if the prison has legitimate fears of Suboxone smuggling, this drug can be kept out of prisons through less heavy-handed means, such as simply inspecting mail that contains cards and drawings.
Additionally, whatever marginal safety gains the prison achieves by banning Christmas cards and the like, these gains are likely to be dwarfed by the impact of the policy on rehabilitation. As the ACLU explains, “the ability of prisoners to maintain relationships with family and friends — including preliterate children who can only communicate on paper through drawings, pictures, and pre-printed cards — is an essential component of a sound correctional confinement operation. Preserving these relationships fosters safe and secure management of the prisoner while confined, and facilitates his or her reintegration to the community upon release.”
According to one expert cited in the complaint, “every known study that has been able to directly examine the relationship between a prisoner’s legitimate community ties and recidivism has found that feelings of being welcome at home and the strength of interpersonal ties outside prison help predict postprison adjustment.”