American Civil Liberties Union calls out La Crosse County Jail over its mail policy

Inmates can communicate with their friends and family through e-messaging, but the jail does not accept paper letters from inmates' loved ones

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – The American Civil Liberties Union is calling out the La Crosse County Jail over its mail policy.

While in the La Crosse County Jail, inmates do have the freedom to communicate with friends and family.

But it comes with a cost.

“If what you’re doing is substituting something, then that substitute should be free,” ACLU of Wisconsin legal director Larry Dupuis said.

According to the sheriff’s office website, inmates can make phone calls, send a text or email, and do video calls with their loved ones.

But inmates can be charged money for using the phone or other electronic devices.

“We think it maybe a little more expensive than it needs to be,” Dupuis said. “But that is a good option.”

Dupuis says jails agree to contracts with private companies that provide these services.

That means jails get some money back when inmates make a phone call or send a text.

La Crosse County does not accept written letters from loved ones to inmates.

“There’s this incentive for them to exclude postal mail when that may be the only way that grandma could get something in to their grandchild who’s in prison or jail,” Dupuis said.

Sheriff Jeff Wolf tells News 8 Now e-messaging works faster than regular mail, and that the jail does not make a large revenue off e-messaging fees.

In a statement, he says in-part, “The ACLU is attempting to manipulate our jail operation with no complaints and numerous positive comments from inmates, friends and family that use this messaging system.”

“For the people who like it and want to use it, that’s great,” Dupuis said. “But our point is, what about grandma? What about the people who don’t communicate that way?”

Dupuis says he believes the jail’s mail policy violates the First Amendment.

So in theory, he says a lawsuit is possible.

But he says ACLU is not in a position to make a lawsuit at this point.

According to a news release from the ACLU, the Oneida County Jail recently reversed course on its mail policy, allowing inmates to receive paper letters from loved ones.