Corrections Secretary John Wetzel announced today that substantial progress has been made toward resolving a lawsuit involving legal mail processing in state prisons. The parties are working to finalize the details of the agreement.
The department will implement an enhanced security screening procedure by April 6th that will allow inmates to receive original legal mail documents. The new procedure will protect institutional security concerns and safeguard the confidential delivery of privileged correspondence.
“The DOC respects the right of attorney-client privilege and recognizes the importance of attorney-client relationships,” said Secretary Wetzel. “At the same time the DOC has a responsibility to ensure that prisons are safe for those who work and live in them. We feel the plan agreed to by the parties meets both of those objectives.”
The DOC had implemented changes to the legal mail process last September that involved scanning legal mail as part of sweeping new security measures undertaken in order to limit the flow of drugs into its facilities after a significant uptick in the number of staff exposures and inmate overdoses.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the Abolitionist Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Amistad Law Project, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP) and an inmate named Davon Hayes, who is incarcerated at SCI-Smithfield.
The department will continue to post information on its public website regarding progress resulting from this and other security changes that have been made to combat the introduction of drugs into the prison system.
The department created a “Drug Interdiction Performance Measures” dashboard that contains data about key indicators of drug-related activity within the facilities, including: the rate of inmate drug finds, the rate of inmate drug tests that come back positive, the rate of drug-related misconducts, the rate of inmates overdosing or being sent to emergency rooms for drug exposure, the number of staff taken to emergency rooms for possible drug exposure, and the rate of inmate violence against staff and other inmates. On all of these measures, the average numbers since the changes were made is lower than the average numbers for the one-year period before and leading up to the changes.