[lg policy] Montana State Prison settles lawsuit over English-only policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 10 15:43:06 UTC 2012

Montana State Prison settles lawsuit over English-only policy

By MATT GOURAS Associated Press | Posted: Friday, March 9, 2012 8:30
pm | 1 Comment

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HELENA – Montana prison officials said Friday they will start
translating non-English letters sent to prisoners – a response to a
convicted killer’s lawsuit challenging the prison’s letter policy that
prevented him from getting mail in Spanish. The move came after the
American Civil Liberties Union of Montana sued on behalf of William
Diaz-Wassmer, who says the prison unconstitutionally withheld
Spanish-language letters sent to him because officials could not
understand the contents.

State attorneys had argued that the mail policy at Deer Lodge prison
was not discriminatory. They said incoming mail must be screened to
maintain safety and security, and that the prison didn’t have the
money or resources to screen non-English letters. Under the
settlement, the prison will make a good faith effort to translate
correspondence written in a language other than English within 10 days
so it can be screened.

Prison officials said the deal still ensures that inmates are not
abusing their constitutional rights in order to undermine prison
“Correspondence with the outside world is one of the freedoms which
inmates can still enjoy, unless the correspondence threatens the
security, safety and orderly administration of the prisons,” agency
attorney Ira Eakin said.

Prison officials say incoming mail represents a potential threat and
must be screened to maintain safety and security. Under the previous
policy, mail written in code or any language not understood by prison
personnel was returned to the sender. Mail written in code can still
be rejected under the new negotiated policy.

Diaz-Wassmer, a native of Guatemala, was convicted in 2007 of killing
and robbing a Livingston woman then setting her house on fire to cover
up the crimes. He was sentenced to 160 years in Deer Lodge prison. 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
English. Prior to the settlement, prison officials began contract
negotiations to provide translation services to the inmates. The ACLU
said it is confident that the system being put in place will be
responsive. The prison, if it cannot translate a letter, must provide
an explanation why it can’t be done.

“The success of rehabilitation efforts of prisoners who are in our
prisons is essential if we are to count on them being good productive
citizens when they get out of jail,” ACLU legal director Jon Ellingson
said. “One of the most important factors with that is maintaining
contact with their community, their family, outside the prison.”

Read more: http://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/montana-state-prison-settles-lawsuit-over-english-only-policy/article_ad465a9e-6a0c-11e1-bebc-001871e3ce6c.html#ixzz1ojGHiCm1

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