[lg policy] Lawsuit over inmate letter policy prompts Montana State Prison to seek translation services

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 27 14:56:54 UTC 2012

Lawsuit over inmate letter policy prompts Montana State Prison to seek
translation services

    MATT VOLZ  Associated Press
    First Posted: January 26, 2012 - 3:05 pm
    Last Updated: January 26, 2012 - 4:10 pm

HELENA, Mont — Montana State Prison officials are in contract
negotiations to provide translation services to inmates who receive
correspondence in languages other than English, a response to a
convicted killer's lawsuit challenging the prison's letter policy.
The state Department of Corrections also is reviewing and revising its
operational procedures further, after changing them once already in

The changes come as settlement talks are under way in a lawsuit filed
by the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana on behalf of William
Diaz-Wassmer, who says the prison unconstitutionally withheld
Spanish-language letters to him from family and friends.
Department of Corrections attorney Colleen Ambrose disclosed the
contract negotiations and policy changes in a court filing updating
the settlement talks. She says that more time is needed to make those
changes and reach an agreement.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong on Wednesday gave both sides a
final deadline of March 9, saying that is sufficient time for
settlement discussions and no further extension shall be filed.
Ambrose's report did not detail the contract being negotiated, other
than to say it is with an outside party to provide translation
services on an "as-needed basis." Prison officials are now in the
process of reviewing and revising their correspondence and
publications operational procedures "to address the concerns of the

Corrections spokesman Bob Anez said Thursday that the policy review is
one of several being undertaken at the prison with the arrival of a
new warden, Leroy Kirkegard, who was hired in October.

ACLU legal director Jon Ellingson said he believed that the settlement
negotiations are "more than 90 percent of the way" completed and that
the talks now consist of hammering out the details.

Diaz-Wassmer, a native of Guatemala, was convicted in 2007 of arson,
robbery and deliberate homicide. He claims the prison violated his
constitutional rights of free speech and equal protection by
withholding his incoming mail written by relatives and friends who
have limited ability to read or write in English.

State attorneys have previously said that no discriminatory mail
policy exists at the Deer Lodge prison. Incoming mail must be screened
to maintain safety and security, and if mail is written in code or any
language not understood by prison personnel, it is returned to the
sender, the prison's original correspondence policy stated.

An employee had previously volunteered to screen inmate mail written
in Spanish, but that worker retired, prison officials have said in
court filings.

On Dec. 12, the prison released a revised version of its policy to
address the translation of letters. The policy now says that mail in a
foreign language "may be delayed up to an additional 20 working days
to facilitate translation and review of contents."

If attempts to translate are unsuccessful within the 20 days, the
correspondence will be treated as undeliverable, it says.

It was not immediately clear what additional changes to the policy
were being negotiated, but Ellingson said he considers the 20-day
provision unacceptable and something he would like to see changed.

He also acknowledged that the translation services under negotiation
would be Spanish to English, but said a settlement would include
prisoners who speak any language.

"I'm confident that if we move in this direction with Spanish-language
prisoners, we will have established the communications rights of
prisoners in other languages," Ellingson said


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