EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: The Different Prison Mail Policies of Different States

As a result of yesterday's post, I started doing some research into the prison mail reading policies in various states. If you followed the Casey Anthony trial, you might recall that there was a big data dump (500+ pages) of all of the letters that Anthony sent and received while in prison. Anthony, of course, was in Florida, and the Florida Department of Corrections website states that

All routine mail sent to an inmate is opened, examined, and read by designated department staff.

In yesterday's post, I was discussing Maryland, and Maryland actually has a policy that is much more protective of an inmate's privacy. According to the Maryland Department of Corrections,

Incoming non-legal mail will be opened and inspected for contraband.

Incoming or outgoing mail will not be read or rejected unless there is probable cause to believe the contents are a threat to the order and security of the facility or that the mail is being used for illegal activity. The Director or designee may order the mail to be opened and inspected.

So, what are the prison mail policies in some other states?

Let's start with some definitions. The Maryland Department of Corrections policy discussed "non-legal mail," which is mail from friends, relatives, etc. (and also known as "personal mail"). By way of contrast, "legal mail" is attorney/client mail, which is accorded greater protection.

Now, let's turn to some policies. I live in South Carolina. According to the South Carolina Department of Corrections,

All mail will be opened and inspected by postal staff prior to being delivered to the inmate. Legal mail is opened and inspected in the presence of the inmate. Mail is not read unless there is reason to believe illegal activity or activity in violations of Agency rules and regulations is present.

How about my neighbor to the north? According to the North Carolina Department of Corrections,

Personal Mail is read, censored, or rejected based on legitimate institutional interests of order and security. 

Legal Mail from inmates may be inspected by correctional staff for contraband in the presence of the inmate prior to being sealed. If there is any question as to whether an addressee fits the definition of legal mail, the letter/package may be held for not more than 24 hours to resolve the question....

Legal mail addressed to an inmate may be opened by correctional staff in the presence of the inmate unless waived in writing by the inmate, or in circumstances which may indicate contamination. Correctional staff will ensure that the contents of letters from these persons are free of contraband and are, in fact, official or legal correspondence from the person whose name and return address appears on the outside of the envelope or package. The correspondence shall not be read beyond what is necessary to make this determination. 

How about Georgia? According to the Georgia Department of Corrections,

Inmate letters and packages will be inspected to intercept cash, checks, money orders and any other contraband. Since credit cards, charge cards, debit cards, and similar devices qualify as negotiable instruments, they are contraband and will be confiscated. Inspection will also include the random reading of the mail. A portion of all incoming mail will be read each week. 

And Tennessee? According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections,

All mail addressed to inmates shall be delivered to the mail room, and all outgoing mail shall be collected at and posted from the mail room. Excluding weekends and holidays, correspondence shall be delivered to inmates within 24 hours of receipt. All incoming mail, excluding privileged mail, may be read by staff. Approved packages should be delivered within 48 hours, excluding weekend and holidays, to the inmate. 

As can be seen from just a few of these policies, different states treat prison mail very differently. 



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Does the sender have any rights to privacy? I don’t want what I say to my son to be every bodies business. I’m in GA. Only post cards are allowed.

Posted by: Jo Coleman | Jul 16, 2019 5:11:58 AM

It is just right to open up mails for their security and I think this is part of their SOP.

Posted by: Globaltel | May 6, 2022 3:55:12 AM

It is nice to read this again. Interesting!

Posted by: GlobalTel | Jul 18, 2023 5:01:31 AM

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