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San Mateo Inmates Fight Back Against Ban on Physical Mail

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Multiple inmates incarcerated in Redwood City, California jails claim the county violated their First Amendment Rights by banning physical mail. On Monday, Superior Court Judge V. Raymond Swope heard arguments on the claims, Courthouse News reported. In 2021, after San Mateo County banned inmate access to written mail, apart from attorney communications, plaintiffs sued the county and its sheriff, which had decided to digitize mail, destroying the original copies and forcing inmates to view mail on shared tablets. Letter writers now must send correspondence through a Florida-based private company Smart Communications.

“Banning physical mail deprives incarcerated people and their communities of a uniquely expressive form of communication,” the inmates’ filing reads. “Physical mail allows people to express themselves in ways that may feel too personal or sensitive for other modes of communication; it encourages deeper connection by giving correspondents the space to read and reflect before responding; and it evokes stronger and more lasting emotional meaning than digital correspondence,” the plaintiffs say in their complaint.


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