Protest Over “Punitive” Inmate Mail Policy Planned for Gov. Wolf’s Philly Office

Demonstrators are expected to gather at noon on Tuesday outside the building in Chinatown that houses the office to deliver hundreds of holiday cards.

holiday cards

Pa. governor Tom Wolf.

Protesters will visit Gov. Tom Wolf’s Philadelphia office on Tuesday — and bring hundreds of holiday cards with them.

Demonstrators want to speak out against the state Department of Corrections’ new mail policy, which prevents state inmates from receiving original copies of mail, cards or photos.

The rule is part of a list of initiatives instituted this fall, after dozens of state prison staff and inmates fell ill in August from contraband synthetic cannabinoids known as K2. The sickness led to a statewide lockdown that closed 21 prisons to visitors, halted most mail service for inmates, and required employees to wear protective gear.

In an announcement in September, secretary of corrections John Wetzel said the drugs were largely getting into prisons through mail, including through paper soaked in K2. Now, as part of a change that costs the state $15 million, all mail except legal mail must go through a facility in Florida, where staff scan the documents so inmates can receive photocopies. Legal mail, instead, is opened and photocopied at the prisons, which some say violates attorney-client privilege. Plus, inmates saw their access temporarily cut off to some volunteer-run free books programs (like Books through Bars, one of the groups behind Tuesday’s protest) in favor of e-books.

Since the rules were instituted, the DOC claims that the number of incidents of K2 staff exposure — as well as of inmate overdoses linked to K2 — have dropped significantly. But families and protesters say the new policies are unjust. Among other things, they say receiving photocopied mail isn’t the same as opening original cards from loved ones, which are often decorated with color or glitter.

A Facebook event page for Tuesday’s holiday cards protest called the changes “some of the most punitive anti-prisoner policies in the country.”

“These policies violate prisoners’ rights, restrict access to educational materials, and surveil and delay correspondence,” the page continues.

The holiday cards protest is set to begin at noon on Tuesday at Wolf’s Philadelphia office, located at 110 North 8th Street in Chinatown. Demonstrators say they will “deliver hundreds of cards demanding an end to the terrible new Department of Corrections policies that prevent our loved ones from receiving original copies of mail, cards, or photos.”

As of 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, 85 people said they were “going” on Facebook, while 362 said they were “interested.”