Howell — An appeals court won’t stop the delivery of mail from the American Civil Liberties Union at the Livingston County jail.
The court last week refused to intervene in an injunction ordered by a Detroit federal judge. The jail now is required to accept mail sent to inmates from the ACLU.
The group filed a lawsuit over the jail’s policy of limiting most incoming and outgoing mail to postcards. It also sought an order that its letters to inmates be treated as protected communication.
“A prisoner’s interest in unimpaired, confidential communication with an attorney is an integral component of the judicial process and mail from an attorney implicates a prisoner’s protected legal mail rights,” Detroit U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood had written in her May 15 decision.
Jail officials said they were suspicious about mass mailing, and the county said in an April filing the ACLU was seeking to “solicit inmates for the furtherance of the plaintiff’s own political agenda.”
The U.S. Supreme Court “has established that jail officials … may limit inmate access to mail that is not a privileged legal communication,” the county said.
In its ruling Thursday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said jails can adopt restrictions based on security. But the court said mail from lawyers typically gets greater protection under the First Amendment.
“We have never squarely addressed whether mail from the ACLU is ‘legal mail,’ ” the ruling said.
“But, on balance, our precedent suggests that it would be, provided that it is from a licensed attorney and designated as privileged information. The envelopes in this case contained clear statements that they were from a licensed Michigan attorney and that they were legal mail.”
Separately, Livingston County is being sued over its refusal to distribute a journal titled Prison Legal News.
Prison Legal News sued the Sheriff’s Office in 2011, saying the postcard-only policy banned the delivery of its journal and was unconstitutional. The ACLU has supported the journal in the case.