PILP v. Wetzel (Hayes v. Wetzel)

Federal lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania Department of Corrections' procedure of copying and storing mail between lawyers and their clients housed in DOC facilities

Court/Assoc.: Federal District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

Attorneys/Firms: Sara Rose and Witold Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center; Deneekie Grant and Kris Henderson of the Amistad Law Project; Angus Love and Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project; and Danielle Bruno, Stephanie Short, Paul Titus, and Keith E. Witson of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP

On October 30, 2018, the ACLU of Pennsylvania with the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, the Abolitionist Law Center, the Amistad Law Project, and volunteer attorneys from the law firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP filed two federal civil rights lawsuits challenging the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ (DOC) new policy of copying and retaining confidential mail from attorneys to their prisoner clients.  The lawsuits, one on behalf of the four organizations and a related one for a DOC prisoner, claim that the practice violates the First Amendment rights of the organizations’ attorneys and DOC prisoners to confidential legal communications.

The new policy follows a 12-day lockdown of all state prisons last month, which the DOC alleges was necessary to protect guards from “unknown substances” that have entered the facilities.

In an attempt to prevent these “unknown substances” from entering state prisons through the mail, DOC officials have been confiscating all incoming legal mail and holding it for 45 days, only allowing prisoners a photocopy of their correspondence. This policy deprives attorney-client communications of confidentiality and chills prisoners’ constitutionally protected expression.

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