ACLU takes on New Hampshire Department of Corrections
Solo Moms raising children of an incarcerated parent witness firsthand the emotional challenges their children face. Maintaining a healthy connection between a child and a parent who is incarcerated can create positive outcomes for parent and child alike. But in May 2015, the New Hampshire Department of Corrections (NHDOC) severely restricted the most accessible form of communication between young children and their parents who are incarcerated: the mail.
In a memo to all correctional facility staff, NHDOC Commissioner William L. Wrenn announced the following: “All incoming correspondence shall utilize standard stock stationary [sic] or plain postcards. No greeting cards, postcards from particular locations or featuring any type of printed design, picture, or depiction or unusually thick stationary [sic] shall be utilized for the correspondence. Incoming correspondence shall be written only in ink or pencil and shall not exhibit any drawings, stickers, or other depictions.”
The ban is the NHDOC’s latest attempt to curb smuggling of the drug Suboxone.
Suboxone is an opiate prescribed by doctors to treat heroin addiction, but on the street it is used to get a recreational high. Dispensed in sublingual strips, Suboxone has been transported into prisons under stickers or stamps, in the adhesive that binds greeting cards, or between heavy layers of crayon drawings.
A mother of a man who is an inmate in the NHDOC, Y.F., and her three-year-old grandson, C.F., learned about the ban in November, when the prison refused the Thanksgiving card Y.F. had mailed to her son and the enclosed drawing C.F. had made for his father.
Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire (ACLU-NH) says, “With this sweeping policy, the state has eliminated one of the few ways young children can communicate with parents who are in prison. This is not only cruel, but also counterproductive for New Hampshire’s over 2,300 prisoners and their families waiting for them to come home. Maintaining family bonds is critical for prisoners to successfully reintegrate into society upon release.”
On December 18, 2015, the ACLU-NH and the law firm Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Y.F. and C.F., stating that the NHDOC policy violates the First and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution.
“We do not doubt that Suboxone is a problem in New Hampshire’s prisons. But the Department of Corrections should address this problem without indiscriminately banning innocent speech,” said Bissonnette. “Instead of saying ‘no’ to all greeting cards and drawings, the state could focus its policies and procedures on the exact ways Suboxone has been sent through the mail. Mail containing handwritten drawings and card stock could also be more rigorously inspected by prison officials to determine if it contains Suboxone.”
An NHDOC spokesperson stated that although the department cannot accurately track how many prisoners have received or continue to receive Suboxone through the mail, it can report a “significant decline” in mail items that might transport it. “Anything we can do to help reduce contraband introduction is a good thing,” said Jeffrey Lyons, NHDOC public information officer.
As the lawsuit works its way through the courts, Solo Moms and caregivers such as Y.F. see the pain this policy inflicts on children of parents who are incarcerated, such as C.F., who is left to wonder why his drawing and “I [Love] U Daddy” message never reached his father.
Solo Moms and allies who would like to share their thoughts about this policy with the NHDOC can contact Commissioner Wrenn via mail, email, or phone:
New Hampshire Department of Corrections
105 Pleasant Street P.O. Box 1806
Concord, NH 03302-1806
Cheryl Dumesnil, ESME’s LGBTQ Resource Guide, is an author, educator, writing coach, all-around do-gooder, and one of two moms separately coparenting two amazing boys. You can follow her on Twitter at @cheryladumesnil.
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