Interaction is sacred to the human experience. When distance, laws, and facilities provide barriers to connections, mail picks up. Advocates for comprehensive mail laws and policies see the importance of a robust system to ensure mail is sent in a timely fashion and allow families to effectively communicate not in person. Even the UN recognizes the fundamental right to mail in the minimum rules for treatment of people who are incarcerated. First, we’ll go through the reasons mail correspondence is pertinent to those who are incarcerated, then we will discuss the recent challenges and ways to advocate for the right to receive and send mail.
Those in prisons and their families rely on mail to exchange information, send hugs, and reassure the other that they’re there. For some, “one letter feels as if it could fill one thousand days.” Part of the reason why mail is so popular is its affordability compared to other means of communications. Video-grams, phone calls, and in-person visits are other ways families can keep in touch. However, these means are either too expensive or inconvenient, especially for those who have to cross state lines. Further, the effects of COVID brought barriers to connection no one could have planned for, reducing or completely getting rid of all in-person visits.
People who are incarcerated also rely on mail to communicate updates about legal proceedings and their own situations, a right guaranteed by the 6th amendment. Unfortunately, rights are not always respected beyond the doors of jails and prisons. Mail between legal council has attorney-client privilege and those who are incarcerated are entitled to legal communication through mail, regardless of the ability to pay for postage. Whether people who interact with the justice system know this or not depends on the state, facility, and how much access they have.
No matter how important mail is to those who are or know people who are imprisoned, there have been historic attacks on the integrity of the U.S Postal Service (USPS) and the policies of the facilities themselves. Mail still serves as a versatile and accessible tool, but not in the ways it used to be. Due to complex political and economic factors, the USPS can’t provide the services it used to. Beyond that, facilities can create their own policies and enforce requirements or cuts to services that drastically restrict and/or lengthen mail correspondence.
3 Ways to Help Protect and Advocate for Mail Rights
First, it’s important that people who are incarcerated and those who communicate with them know their rights.
Advocate against the use and presences of for-profit subcontractors within and around prison facilities.
As prison officials change throughout political elections, urge your local leaders to advocate for local facilities while doing the same at the federal level. Here’s a good jumping off point into your own research for your state’s history.