February 22, 2019 - Samantha Melamed, The Philadelphia Inquirer
As part of a legal settlement expected to be finalized in March, Pennsylvania’s state prisons will rescind a six-month-old policy lawyers said made it impossible for them to communicate confidentially with clients.
The controversial policy, under which legal mail was intercepted, photocopied, and then destroyed, had been announced last September as one of a series of new security measures — many without precedent in a state prison setting — intended to prevent the smuggling of drugs into the prisons. Four civil rights groups and a state prison inmate had filed suit in federal court seeking an emergency injunction.
Beginning April 6, the prisons will revert to some variation on the previous system, which did not involve photocopying and relied on individual attorney-identification numbers to track legal mail.
Bret Grote, a Pittsburgh-based lawyer with the Abolitionist Law Center, said the prisons’ policy of copying legal mail had presented a clear First Amendment violation, effectively prohibiting inmates’ access to the courts.
“For us, it was a problem right from the jump,” he said. “We are pleased that they are now being responsive to the need to protect attorney-client confidentiality and recognize that the photocopying policy was untenable.”