It’s Postcards Only For Writing Inmates At Muskegon County Jail

Andrew Trzaska | February 8, 2011

Voices were heard at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting decrying the new postcard-only policy at the Muskegon County jail.

Starting this past Monday, all written communication to or from inmates housed at the jail must be written on regular-sized postcards.

Muskegon County Sheriff Dean Roesler has said that security is the main reason for the implementation of the policy, and the Sheriff’s Office had spent multiple years reviewing the Muskegon County Jail’s mail process came before the policy was implemented Monday.

Three representatives of a local grassroots organization named Letters Are Better spoke at Tuesday’s full board meeting on the matter and submitted a 300-signature petition to the board requesting the scrapping of the policy.

Letters Are Better volunteers collected the signatures last week from people around the county at “Wal-Mart, corner stores, the art museum” and other locations.

In addition to security concerns like the elimination of contraband, the Sheriff’s Office also noted that the time spent opening envelopes and sorting through mail by jail staff was a consideration as well.

By consequence, the policy would restrict the enclosure of other items like photographs, but would effectively end the inclusion of prohibited contraband like drugs.

While complimentary of the Sheriff’s efforts, Letters are Better member Rob Fischer said at Tuesday’s meeting that the policy created an either/or situation where communication between inmates and the outside world and a drug-free jail were at odds.

Faith Groesbeck stated that the limited space on a postcard slows and shortens communication between people that may have a greater need for written correspondence.

“A postcard is not enough space and does not allow for privacy to share dreams with the people you love.”

Wendy Sampson, spokesperson for Letters Are Better, claimed that the policy would do more social harm than good.

“Communication is important to strengthening communities but is especially important for families in crisis.  Further reducing communication with inmates exacerbates the crisis.”

Letter Are Better recently formed in response to the policy’s planning. In addition to the petition, they also recently had a call-in day to the County Sheriff’s office, when over 60 calls were placed to complain about the policy.

Muskegon County’s debate is not isolated. Similar restrictions have been proposed in five other Michigan counties, and recently a similar regulation was struck down in Colorado when challenged by the ACLU.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst