LANSING, MICH. - Lonely Michigan prison inmates can soon forget about receiving perfume-scented letters or ones marked with a lipstick kiss from a loved one.
And their children will no longer be able to send them home-made birthday or Christmas cards to ease the stress of their time behind bars.
New restrictions on incoming mail – which prison officials say are designed to cut down on the smuggling of drugs and other contraband – are to go into effect Oct. 1, according to a notice posted on the Corrections Department website.
The planned changes are prompting outrage among friends and family members of inmates.
"Ridiculous," said Brenda Bradley of Novi, who writes regularly to a close friend at St. Louis Correctional Facility.
Though their relationship is more platonic than romantic, "I have sent perfume-scented letters before," along with crayon-colored birds and balloons that will soon also be prohibited, said Bradley, an information technology worker.
"They don't get much of anything in there," and "there is a fine line between what is reasonable for safety and just stripping people of their basic human rights."
The new restrictions include:
- Mail must be sent in white envelopes only
- Padded, cardboard, or tear resistant envelopes will not be allowed.
- Stickers of any type, including return address labels, are prohibited.
- Mail containing stains of any type, including perfume, lipstick, oily substances, water marks, and body fluids are not allowed.
- Only mail written in blue or black ink or lead pencil is permitted.
- Mail must not contain glue or non-transparent tape.
- Greeting cards must be no larger than six inches by eight inches, have a single fold, and be commercially produced with no embellishments such as cutouts, jewels, or raised areas.
- Holly Kramer, a spokeswoman for the corrections department, said one of the significant concerns is drugs such as Suboxone, which can be circulated in thin strips and concealed under a mail item such as a return address sticker.
The new mail policy "really was an additional step taken to prevent contraband from entering facilities," Kramer said.
Similar mail policies are in place in prison systems in New Hampshire and other states, Kramer said.
Bradley said she can understand some of the restrictions, but others go overboard and requiring greeting cards to be store-bought will deprive inmates' children of a loving gesture while driving up costs for inmates' families.
Doug Tjapkes, president of Humanity for Prisoners in Grand Haven, said he's hearing strong opposition to the new rules from inmates and their families.
"I don't know why they go to such extremes when they do something," Tjapkes said.
"It's really getting a lot of protest."
Prisoners recognize a serious problem with drugs being smuggled into prison but say the drugs are not getting in through the mail, he said.
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