LOGAN -- A Mormon bishop and three inmates have filed a class-action lawsuit against Cache County over a recent policy change that limits most ingoing and outgoing mail to postcards.
The suit was filed Wednesday in federal court in Salt Lake City on behalf of the inmates, some of whom have since been released. It claimed prisoners must either stop writing or risk divulging personal information to anyone handling the mail.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Bishop Bert Sainsbury of Logan said the new policy has hampered his ability to talk about private spiritual matters with inmates.
"A postcard can be read by anyone who comes across it -- jail staff, postal workers, other inmates, etc. -- and is therefore not suitable for private correspondence with clergy," Sainsbury said in the lawsuit.
County officials claim the policy was aimed at reducing contraband that might come in a letter and to cut postage costs. Inmates can still send and receive letters to and from their attorneys.
Cache County Lt. Matt Bilodeau, one of the jail's commanders, said officials believe they are well within the law by enforcing the policy.
"We're not restricting the communication," he said. "We're only restricting how it's done with the mail."
He pointed out that inmates can meet in person with clergy members for 30 minutes each week.
"That's quite liberal," Bilodeau said. "We don't feel we have to change the policy to accommodate the bishop."
But Sainsbury said the jail visits were not enough, and that he needed more regular and extended communication.
"Determining how much spiritual counseling a person needs or should have or desires is not something a jail staff member should be making," said attorney Brian Barnard, who filed the lawsuit. "And having the ability to communicate with one's spiritual adviser through letters seems like a very simple thing that should be available to inmates."
Bilodeau said the postcard policy is saving time that staff would normally use to search letters and envelopes for contraband. He's seen LSD stored behind stamps, drugs hidden under the folds of an envelope, and newspaper clippings that inmates can reduce down to tattoo ink.
The jail also saves money on outgoing mail because postage is cheaper for postcards than for letters.
"The mere fact that something is (more convenient) for staff doesn't mean it's constitutional," Barnard said.
He claimed similar policies have been enacted in various county jails across the nation but have been challenged and found unconstitutional. He said two other Utah counties -- Weber and Iron -- have a postcard only policy.
In Arizona, for example, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has a policy requiring all incoming mail be in postcard form, though outgoing mail can be sent on regular paper purchased through the jail, if the inmate can afford it.
Jesus Antonio Cabrera, a former Cache County inmate, said he regularly mailed multi-page letters to family members and received the same back. But when the new policy went into effect, he had only enough money to buy small-sized postcards sold through the jail commissary. He said the size made it virtually impossible to communicate with a grandmother with poor eyesight.
Plus, Cabrera said, he was not comfortable discussing private spiritual matters on a postcard.
Barnard is seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the practice while the case is pending.