by Efren Paredes, Jr.
Today the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) issued a memorandum notifying prisoners and members of the public about new changes being made to the "Prisoner Mail" policy, PD 05.03.118, which should rattle the national consciousness. The changes will be strictly enforced beginning October 1, 2017.
According to the memorandum, "Mail received that violates any of these regulations will be returned to the sender and/or rejected by the mail-room staff in accordance with PD 05.03.118."
The following is the list of new regulations listed in the memorandum:
- All mail must be received in WHITE envelopes only; no security features will be permitted.
- Padded, cardboard, tear resistant, or similar envelopes will not be allowed.
- Stickers of any kind, including return address labels, are prohibited.
- Mail containing stains of any type, including but not limited to, perfume, lipstick, oily substances, water marks, body fluids, etc., are not allowed.
- Only mail written in blue or black ink or lead pencil is permitted. Mail written in marker, crayon, paint, glitter, chalk, charcoal, or colored inks is not permitted.
- Mail must not contain glue/paste or nontransparent tape of any type.
- Greeting cards must be no larger than 6" x 8", single-fold, commercially produced with no embellishments, including but not limited to, cutouts, jewels, raised areas, etc.
See list on MDOC website: http://www.michigan.gov/corrections/0,4551,7-119-9741_12798-25071--,00.html
The above list includes the most restrictive changes ever made to the MDOC "Prisoner Mail" policy. It appears that administrators are making a strong push to discourage the use of U.S. Mail to communicate with prisoners for anything other than sending letters, photographs, and legal correspondence, and encouraging people to use email instead.
Many courts, attorneys, book vendors, magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and members of the public use address labels to mail letters to prisoners. According to the new memorandum all these examples of mail will qualify to be rejected.
The new policy changes are going to create major mail backlogs at each prison because of this. There are 41,000 prisoners in Michigan and tens of thousands of citizens who are related to or know prisoners who will be adversely affected by the new policy changes. It is impossible to notify everyone of the mail policy revisions in such a short period of time before the effective date of the changes. It could also result in prisoners missing court filing deadlines and consequently denial of access to the courts.
The MDOC allows members of the public to send prisoners email through their approved email portal which is www.JPay.com. The problem is there are limitations to the mail that can be sent this way and it is very costly, costing $0.20 per page. Document attachments also cannot be sent using this platform.
People who use www.JPay.com are required to set up an account and locate prisoners they would like to write by their prison number. For instance, someone trying to write me using the platform can do so by locating me on the web site with my prison number, "203116". People can follow the same steps for sending emails to other Michigan prisoners as well, only they enter the prison number of the prisoner they are trying to contact.
Letters and emails are vital to rehabilitation. For families who cannot afford to visit prisoners or the exorbitant price of prisoner phone calls, letters and emails are the only form of communication available to them. It is the only way members of the public can find out how prisoners are doing and remain involved in their lives. This is especially true in the case of prisoners who have served many years behind bars.
It is important that people not allow the new mail restrictions to discourage them from communicating with prisoners. Letters and emails provide hope to prisoners and help them remain tethered to the outside world. In some cases it is their only connection. Mail is one of the most meaningful things in prisoners' lives and I encourage readers to not reduce sending it.
You are encouraged to circulate this message with as many prisoner family members, friends, and attorneys possible to prevent them from sending prisoners any mail which may contravene the new pernicious MDOC prisoner mail policy restrictions and result in avoidable mail delivery delays. You are welcome to share this message via social media and email.
For those who may view this development as insignificant, I ask you to consider the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, "We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, and whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."
Everyone will be impacted by the new changes at some point because of the persistent uncontrollable growth of mass incarceration.
(Efren Paredes, Jr. is a Michigan prisoner who is a social justice advocate, educator, and blogger. You can learn more about Efren and receive updates about his latest writings by visiting www.fb.com/Free.Efren or www.TinyURL.com/Efren1016.)