Inmates sue jail over correspondence

PLYMOUTH — Two inmates of the Marshall County Jail have filed suit against the jail over what they claim is a violation of their civil rights.
A new “postcard policy” began at the jail April 1, prohibiting inmates from receiving letters in envelopes from their friends and family. Instead, those incarcerated must be satisfied with postcards. The reason for the change, according to Marshall County Sheriff Tom Chamberlin, is that several letters have been sent to the jail containing dangerous or illegal contraband.
“It’s a safety concern,” explained Chamberlin to the county commissioners Monday. “We have employees that have to be very careful opening the envelopes. We’ve had a variety of solutions (found) on the envelopes.”
The jail’s answer to the problem is to restrict letters going into the jail to only those from churches and attorneys (because of confidential information that may be enclosed). Inmates are still allowed to send letters, but they cannot receive them.
A notice of the lawsuit from attorney Kenneth Falk of Indiana Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the inmates requests that the case be certified as class action, that the postcard policy be declared unconstitutional under the First Amendment, and that an injunction be made preventing the policy from being enforced.
County attorney Jim Clevenger advised the commissioners that the county’s liability carrier would not be providing a defense for this issue. Chamberlin said that he has been in contact with the Indiana Sheriff’s Association attorney, Howard Williams, and will meet with him later this week to discuss the matter.
In other business:
• The commissioners again considered offering dirt on the Marshall County Jail property to county residents for personal use. Commissioner Kevin Overmyer suggested that a county highway department employee hand out the dirt to interested residents during a specified time in the month of May. Although commissioner Jack Roose initially agreed to the suggestion, it was later decided that the dirt will only be made available to government entities, school systems, and municipalities in the county because of liability issues. Overmyer commented that the Plymouth Park Department had already picked up some of the dirt for use in planters downtown, and county highway superintendent Neal Haeck said that a school system had also contacted him with an interest in the dirt.
“We want to stockpile some for ourselves, for future use,” said Haeck.
The commissioners unanimously moved to allow government entities to pick up the dirt free of charge. Whatever is left will be leveled off by county surveyor Larry Fisher.