ACLU criticizes prison policy in Missouri over pen pals
By Maria Hickey, KWMU
St. Louis, MO. – The ACLU is criticizing a new policy of the Missouri Department of Corrections that prevents prisoners from seeking pen pals on the Internet.
Prisoners in Missouri are not given direct Internet access, but they have been able to send their information to volunteer groups that put their information on such websites.
The new policy prohibits that as of June 1.
Spokesman for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri Tony Rothert says a similar law in Arizona was thrown out by a federal court.
"All access to the Internet for trying to get pen pals is just too large of an attack, and not narrowly attacking the real problem which would be some prisoners maybe misusing the pen pal relationship," Rothert said.
But Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Hauswirth says a special committee found fraud was widespread as prisoners were often misrepresenting themselves and asking for money.
He says the policy is not stepping on prisoners' rights.
"They are still going to have the opportunity to write to anyone on the outside, and the bottom line is they will also have the opportunity to receive mail from the outside," Hauswirth said. "It's not banning pen pals per se. It's banning solicitation for pen pals on websites."
Hauswirth says he's not familiar with that Arizona case but says a similar Florida policy withstood a court challenge