Handling priority mail: Pennsylvania’s prison mail controversy

Listen 12:44
Pennsylvania Corrections Department mail inspector Brian Strawser sorts inmate mail at Camp Hill state prison in Camp Hill, Pa.

Pennsylvania Corrections Department mail inspector Brian Strawser sorts inmate mail at Camp Hill state prison in Camp Hill, Pa., on Oct. 4, 2018. (Mark Scolforo/AP)

After staff at Pennsylvania prisons were sickened by synthetic drugs, the state cracked down on its mail policy. It mandated that guards photocopy inmates’ mail — including legal correspondence with their attorneys — and give the copies to the inmates, while keeping the originals. The policy spurred a lawsuit by the ACLU and other criminal justice groups who claimed it breeched inmates’ First Amendment rights. It also raised the question of what takes precedent: the safety and security of prisons or the protection of attorney-client privilege? On this episode of The Why, Katie Meyer, who covers the State Capital for WHYY and other Pennsylvania stations, explains why legal mail privacy matters.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.