Is the Policy of Opening Checking and Resealing Incoming Legal Mail Outside the Presence of Inmates of a Correctional Institution Justified ?
In Jones v. Brown, 461 F.3d 353 (3d Cir. 2006), the inmate challenged the New Jersey Department of Corrections' revised legal mail policy 4 pursuant to which all incoming legal mail was opened outside the presence of the inmate and inspected for contraband, resealed, then delivered to the inmate.
The stated objective of the revised policy was to inhibit the spread of contamination should a toxic substance be introduced into a correctional institution through incoming legal mail. 461 F.3d at 356.
The court reversed the district court and concluded that the revised policy might have been justified as an emergency measure at a time when the risk of an anthrax terrorism attack was sufficiently unquantifiable, but that the State failed to demonstrate an ongoing valid, rational connection between the policy and a legitimate government interest.
"Even if an administrator could reasonably conclude [three years after the anthrax emergency] that there was a non-de minimis risk of an anthrax attack on New Jersey prisons, common sense, without more, would not afford a reasonable basis for believing that that risk would be materially reduced by opening letters from lawyers and courts." 461 F.3d at 363.