Return to Sender

The plan for a postcard-only mail policy at Santa Barbara Jail should be canceled.

Officials in the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s department should immediately call off their plan to start banning family members from writing letters to loved ones in jail. Limiting incoming correspondence to postcards only jeopardizes the kinds of community ties that are essential for keeping everyone safe.

My report, released by the Prison Policy Initiative, “Return to Sender: Postcard-only Policies in Jail,” finds that local jail bans on letters impede the reentry process and increase the chances that people will reoffend in the future. Such policies also present a significant burden to the disproportionately low-income families of people in jail.

All major corrections professional associations know that the social science research is clear: Communication between people in jail and their families and communities should be encouraged, not stifled. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s national standards explicitly prohibit postcard-only mail restrictions in facilities holding detainees. Officials in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have also been clear opponents of draconian postcard-only mail policies, recognizing that such restrictions are both counterproductive and harmful.

The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department should honor their commitment to public safety by canceling its postcard-only policy before it goes into effect on Monday and does real damage.

Leah Sakala is a policy analyst with the Prison Policy Initiative.

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