A federal judge has upheld the policy of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to limit mail to inmates to postcards. U.S. District Judge Neil Wake has thrown out a lawsuit filed by inmate Geoffrey Gieck challenging rules imposed by Arpaio regarding incoming mail to his jails.
Wake, in the ruling obtained Tuesday, said Arpaio had proven he had a "legitimate penological interest" for imposing the restriction.
And the judge said Gieck failed to prove that he did not have other reasonable alternatives.
The policy allows inmates to receive an unlimited amount of mail, without any restriction on the content, so long as the items are written in blue or black ink on a common-size postcard. The postage also has to be put on by a meter rather than using a stamp.
Gieck sued, saying that the restrictions violated his rights to receive mail. Wake, however, said evidence presented by the sheriff's department showed the restriction is reasonable.
He said there are between 9,000 and 10,000 people in the county jail system at any one time, with anywhere between 2,000 and 4,000 pieces of mail received each day. Each of those, the judge said, has to be inspected for contraband.
The judge cited statements from sheriff's deputies who said there have been various attempts to smuggle contraband into the prison system, including putting drugs or other chemicals on the back of postage stamps and hiding saw blades and handcuff keys in the bindings of notebooks.
"The reduction of contraband smuggling is a legitimate goal of the Maricopa County jails and the mail policy is reasonably related to furthering that goal," he wrote.
Wake also rejected claims that Gieck's privacy is being violated, pointing out that jail officials always remain free to open even sealed mail and monitor the conversations of inmates and visitors, with the exception of talks with legal counsel.
The judge added that Gieck remains free to get as much mail as anyone is willing to send him. He also can receive visitors and talk with people on the phone.
Wake's decision, however, is not an absolute blessing of Arpaio's policy. The judge said the outcome of a lawsuit might be different if an inmate actually presented evidence of specific harm from the policy.