Prisoners Penned In by Pal Ban

State faces lawsuit over rule prohibiting pen pals

Being in the big house can be lonely, especially in Florida, where lawmakers have banned inmates from having pen pals.

In 2003, the state prohibited prisoners from soliciting for pen pals after complaints that cons were conning outsiders through the letters.

But now two pen pal groups have filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming the prisoners' First Amendment rights are being violated.

One of the companies involved in the lawsuit is Edgewater-based, which claims the fraud isn't as widespread  as officials suggest.

"The public knows when they're writing to these people that they're prisoners," said Randall Berg Jr., a lawyer representing the pen pal groups. "Nobody is being duped here."

Despite the ban, several prisoners are still posting profiles on, including 42-year-old Paula Jones, serving time in a women's prison north of Orlando on cocaine possession charges.

"Not everyone has (ulterior) motives, lies or solicits," Jones wrote to the AP. "Some of us ... even if it's very few are truly genuine and hope to meet someone good in our life."

Jailbirds who continue to use the sites claim they've had visitation or phone call privileges revoked.

Missouri, Montana, Indiana and Pennsylvania have similar bans on inmate pen pals, and the ACLU says it's working on lawsuits in some of those states to reverse the prohibition.

Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman with the Department of Corrections, said the ban is in place for good reason.

"We're doing it to protect the public," Plessinger said. "Inmates can have pen pals -- they just can't solicit for pen pals."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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