Recently the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) changed the policy on how and what they deem to be “legal mail.”
All legal mail is supposed to be opened in the presence of the recipient, but Ohio no longer recognizes any mail coming into the prison from courts, lawyers or any legal entity as legal mail unless it has a control number.
This is what happens when a court decision or transcripts of proceedings without control numbers get sent to an inmate: The mail room opens it and places it on a copier and copies it. If the copier grabs two pages and one never gets copied, we would never know.
This is a problem especially when we have to respond to a decision about a motion within 14 days. It takes four days for it to arrive at the prison and two days for it to get from the mailroom to the inmate. Because access to the law library has been very limited due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it takes two to four days to mail out your response.
That only leaves four days to research and write the response if the law library is open and space is available.
The U.S. Supreme Court has clearly established what prisons cannot do, and opening legal mail outside of our presence is one of them. But when this issue was brought to ODRC’s attention, the response was, “We know you will file suit but it will take two years before the courts will hear it. So until we hear something, this is what we’re doing.”
We are now in the process of filing an injunction. Many inmates don’t know what to do. We need help.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.