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LOGAN — An LDS Church bishop and three current or former jail inmates filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging the Cache County Jail's new policy restricting prisoner mail to postcards.
The rule, which took effect in February, inhibits, chills and suppresses the constitutionally protected correspondence between inmates and clergy, family members and friends, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court. It "has forced prisoners to either abandon important correspondence or risk divulging highly confidential, sensitive information."
Logan River 1st Ward Bishop Bert Sainsbury claims in the suit that the postcards-only policy has "drastically limited" his ability to communicate with a member of his ward, Jesus Cabrera, an jail inmate and plaintiff in the case.
"Bishop Sainsbury believes, in his role as Cabrera's bishop, that it is vital that he have more regular and extended communication" than a postcard allows.
(Jesus Cabrera) wanted to communicate more with Bishop Sainsbury regarding religious and spiritual matters but was not comfortable discussing private spiritual matters on a postcard that could be read by postal workers, other members of his bishop's household, etc.
–from the filed suit
Cabrera met with his bishop weekly while in jail.
"He wanted to communicate more with Bishop Sainsbury regarding religious and spiritual matters but was not comfortable discussing private spiritual matters on a postcard that could be read by postal workers, other members of his bishop's household, etc.," according to the suit.
Since February, the jail has restricted inmates' outgoing and incoming mail to a postcard, except for letters between them and their attorneys or the courts. Mail received on anything other than postcards is returned to sender.
The policy aims to save money and reduce contraband that might come in a letter.
Cache County Jail commanders were not available Wednesday and Sheriff G. Lynn Nelson did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Salt Lake attorney Brian Barnard, who represents the bishop and the inmates, said freedom of religion and expression are two of the rights prisoners retain.
"It does not take a constitutional scholar to understand that an inmate should be allowed to communicate with his religious adviser in a private letter and not on a tiny postcard that can be read by anyone who handles it," he said.
Barnard said he intends to file a motion for a temporary restraining order to stop the practice while the case is pending.
"The fact that this new policy may save money is not a legitimate reason for its implementation," he said. "Many onerous policies in the jail would save money, that does not mean they are constitutional or humane."
Inmates Jeffrey Allen Tucker and Barry Snyder claim the rule also inhibits their ability to provide emotional support for family members experiencing difficulties or receive comfort themselves.