CO: Jail Drops Postcard-Only Policy Following ACLU Lawsuit El Paso County Sheriff Agrees To Stop Suppressing Prisoners’ First Amendment Rights

Jail Drops Postcard-Only Policy Following ACLU Lawsuit
El Paso County Sheriff Agrees To Stop Suppressing Prisoners’ First Amendment Rights
December 20, 2010
(ACLU Press Release, thanks to the Real Cost of Prisons)

DENVER – The El Paso County Jail today dropped its policy of restricting prisoners’ outgoing mail to postcards. Faced with defending an unconstitutional policy before a judge at a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, county officials agreed to a preliminary injunction ending the postcard-only policy following a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Colorado. Chief Judge Wiley Y. Daniel of the U.S. District Court in Denver signed the order today.

Just in time for the Christmas holiday, prisoners at El Paso County Jail – most of whom are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of any crime – will once again be permitted to send letters in sealed envelopes to their children, family members, friends and loved ones.

“Today we celebrate a victory not only for the First Amendment, but for hundreds of Colorado families,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director. “The El Paso County Jail’s ‘postcard-only’ policy violated the rights of both prisoners and their correspondents. Incarcerated individuals will no longer be forced to avoid personal topics such as medical, financial or relationship issues simply because their words were in plain sight for anyone to read.”

Callie Gonzales, whose son Damian is currently in El Paso County Jail awaiting trial, looks forward to once again receiving letters from her eldest child. Ms. Gonzales, who used to receive three to four long letters a week from her son, says their correspondence has been significantly cut down under the "postcard-only" policy.

“Since the policy went into effect…our communications have been dramatically stifled," said Ms. Gonzalez in a recent court filing. "These postcards provide only a tiny fraction of the space he was once able to fill…It is impossible for Damian and I to remain as close we were when he was able to send letters…Damian no longer sends handmade cards or drawings to his…youngest siblings who cannot read, and for whom these drawings and cards were their most direct and loving form of communication with him.”

“It shouldn’t take a federal lawsuit to allow a prisoner to write a letter to his mother,” said David Fathi, Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “The El Paso County Jail did the right thing by abandoning this unconstitutional practice; we hope that other jails with ‘postcard-only’ policies will do the same without waiting for litigation.”

In recent months a number of jails around the United States, including one other jail in Colorado, have adopted "postcard-only" policies for prisoner mail. Today's ruling is the first in a case challenging a jail "postcard-only" policy in which the prisoners were represented by counsel throughout the lawsuit.
“Beyond their clear constitutional violations, these policies are simply counter-productive,” said Rebecca Wallace, staff attorney with the ACLU of Colorado. “Letters clearly allow prisoners to maintain relationships with friends and family that will aid in their return to life after incarceration. If jail officials are serious about lowering recidivism and increasing public safety, they would do well to recognize that preserving prisoners’ rights to send letters actually protects us all.”

Today’s court order is available online at:

ACLU and Experts Slam Findings of Colorado DOC Report On Solitary Confinement

December 4, 2010
by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella
This press release, issued by the ACLU of Colorado this week under the headline used for this post, speaks for itself.
The ACLU of Colorado and leading forensic psychology experts are questioning the findings of a report released by the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) on the psychological effects of solitary confinement.  The report, titled “One Year Longitudinal Study of the Psychological Effects of Administrative Segregation,” concludes that solitary confinement does not cause mentally ill prisoners to get worse.  The ACLU noted that this conclusion, which contradicts considerable previous research and prevailing expert opinion, also poses a danger of rationalizing the continued warehousing of seriously mentally ill prisoners in “supermax” conditions that impede treatment and improvement.

Dr. Terry Kupers, one of the world’s leading experts on the psychological effects of solitary confinement, notes that “the methodology of the study is so deeply flawed that I would consider the conclusions almost entirely erroneous.  I fear that this seemingly scientific study will be used to justify the use of solitary confinement with mentally ill prisoners in the future.”  He continued, “the researchers did not even spend time talking to the subjects about their experience in supermax.  And far from finding ‘no harm,’ there were many episodes of psychosis and suicidal behavior during the course of the study – the researchers merely minimize the emotional pain and suffering because they judge the prisoners to have been already damaged before they arrived at supermax.  Further, the tests in this study are designed as accompaniments to record reviews and clinical interviews, and are not valid as stand-alone self-reports, which is how this study utilized them.  By only including prisoners who volunteered for the study and who can read at an 8th grade level or better, the researchers excluded two of the groups most likely to be adversely affected by solitary confinement: those who refuse to participate in social interaction and those unable to pass time by reading and writing.”

Dr. Stuart Grassian, a Board-Certified forensic psychiatrist and former faculty member at Harvard Medical School, was invited by the study’s authors to review their research.
“Prior to publication, I informed the researchers that their report contains several fatal flaws in methodology, particularly their decision not to analyze to data that contradicted their conclusions. DOC files record incidents of emergency psychiatric contacts (e.g. incidents of suicidal or self-destructive behavior).  Among the prisoners in solitary confinement, there were almost two incidents for every three inmates (63%), as compared to less than one incident for every ten inmates (9%) in the general population. This objective data squarely contradicts the authors’ conclusion that solitary confinement does not produce significantly more psychiatric difficulties than does general prison housing.  The authors simply declined to perform this straightforward statistical analysis, even after the oversight was explicitly pointed out.
As Dr. Grassian notes, while the study is flawed, there are some useful pieces of data. For example, it confirms that a shockingly high number of inmates in solitary confinement are suffering from serious mental illness.

“The DOC’s study confirms a scandalous and unacceptable reality: there are hundreds of seriously mentally ill prisoners who are essentially warehoused in solitary confinement under conditions that prevent them from receiving adequate treatment for their illness,” said Ray Drew, ACLU Executive Director, who recently toured seven solitary confinement units at various Colorado prisons.  “Even if the study were reliable, a proposition many experts contest, it concludes only that solitary isn’t causing further deterioration.  But that’s a far cry from meeting the DOC’s legal obligation to provide the treatment the prisoners need.”

The decision to base many of its findings upon inmates’ self-reported information is the report’s most obvious weakness. Prisoners have every incentive to downplay symptoms of mental illness and deny their suffering in order to present themselves as healthy enough to be released from solitary. Yet instead of acknowledging this basic truth, the DOC tries to turn it on its head, noting that prisoners “may have reason to exaggerate their symptoms.”

The report concludes that there was “improvement in psychological well-being across all study groups,” while at the same time noting that the official prison records—a major component of the data—were “inconsistent and incomplete.”

The report’s troubling conclusions create the very real danger that it will be used to justify the current system of solitary confinement, allowing it to operate without regard to its ineffective nature, dubious constitutionality, or cost to the taxpayer. Ultimately, well over 90% of prisoners held in solitary confinement will be released to the community. 41% are released directly from solitary confinement to the streets, after years of total isolation from human contact. They don’t last long. 68% return to prison within three years, as compared to a 50% recidivism rate in the overall prison population.

“We must address this from a public safety perspective, as well as a policy issue,” said Drew. “Furthermore, the practice of releasing prisoners directly to the streets after years of solitary confinement simply cannot continue. It is a danger to the public and an almost surefire way to guarantee that a prisoner will be returning to prison.”

Dr. Terry Kupers is a Board-certified psychiatrist, Institute Professor at The Wright Institute and author of Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It.  He has served as an expert witness and monitor in class action litigation about conditions of confinement such as supermax isolation, the quality of correctional mental health care and the ramifications of sexual abuse of prisoners.  He was named “Exemplary Psychiatrist” by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) in 2005.

Dr. Stuart Grassian is a Board-certified psychiatrist and former faculty member of the Harvard Medical Schools. He has served as an expert witness in numerous lawsuits addressing solitary confinement, and his conclusions have been cited in a number of federal court decisions.  He has provided invited testimony before legislative hearings in New York State, Maine and Massachusetts.

New Reality Wedding Show Coming Early 2011

Wedding reality shows are popping up everywhere. Not sure if this is a good thing. With the controversial show, Bridalplasty, making headlines last month, The CW is trying to gain some exposure from their newest show, Shredding For The Wedding.

From the Executive Producer of The Biggest Loser, Shredding For The Wedding features 10 overweight couple competing to lose the most weight before their wedding day. The last standing couple would be awarded with a fantasy wedding that America will attend. Below is an early trailer. Will you watch Shredding The Wedding when it comes out?

River Surfer magazine

Link to River Surfer magazine
Photo Property of Bjoren Richie LOB Munich fine filmmaker of the award winning film "Keep Surfing"

home on the range


Have I been neglecting sharing my recent stuff - yes. But I have good reason. Here's a few photos of our new place! Picket fence and all . . .



Wedding Photobomb

wedding funny

That horse has us cracking up!

Hippo Bride + Groom

unique wedding cake toppersHow cute is this clay Hippo bride and groom cake topper!

Screen shot 2010-12-02 at 11.06.23 AM

The Bouquet Tree

wedding bouquet tree

Isn't that the prettiest tree you've ever seen!

State of The Wedding Industry Q4 2010

Calling all wedding service professionals....
You have been invited to participate in the State of The Wedding Industry Study Q4 2010.

The purpose of this study is to capture, from you (the vendor perspective), how much brides and grooms are spending in the first half of the year, what trends you are seeing, some basic business demographic and activity information, and what methods you use to get new customers. The information compiled within this study is a great way to monitor the pulse of the entire wedding industry as a whole.

Summary results of this study will be available on in late January 2011.

To participate in this survey, visit this link

Thank you to all of the professional wedding vendors who take part of this very important (and extremely interesting) study!

2011: The Year Of The Groom

The groom-centric pros over at Staggered have declared 2011 to be the Year of the Groom.

“What we want wedding companies to do is accept that a wedding should be a celebration of the couple and that obviously includes both brides and grooms. Unfortunately, the feedback from our readers is that grooms are still seen as a bit of an irrelevance by some suppliers." explains Staggered editor Andrew Shanahan.

This is something we can definitely support. Grooms are playing a bigger role in the wedding planning process and it's about time someone declared the groom revolution!

Read the entire article here

Snoop Dogg Writes Song For Prince William's Bachelor Party

Nope, we're not lying. Legendary rapper, Snoop Dogg, has confirmed that he has written a brand new song titled "Wet" specifically for Prince William.

“When I heard the royal family wanted to have me perform in celebration of Prince William’s marriage, I knew I had to give them a little something,” the rapper said. “‘Wet’ is the perfect anthem for Prince William or any playa to get the club smokin’.” Prince William and Kate Middleton will tie the knot on April 29. Snoop’s new single is available on his web site.

Read the entire article here