Montana Restricts Inmate Mail to Written in English Only

The ACLU is representing an inmate in a lawsuit against the Montana state Corrections Department, claiming they violated constitutional rights to free expression and equal protection under the law by confiscating letters in Spanish to a foreign-born inmate. The defendants cite security concerns and a lack of funding for a interpreter and deny having an English-only policy. In May 2010, Montana corrections officers stopped delivering mail written in Spanish from family members to William Diaz-Wassmer, citing security concerns. They argued that restrictions on inmate correspondence prohibit letters written in “code or foreign language not understood” by corrections staff who monitor prison mail.

Previously, a volunteer prison worker had been interpreting letters partly written in Spanish. A staff attorney for the Corrections Department said budget constraints don’t allow the state to hire another interpreter, and that requiring the state to provide translation services would pose a financial hardship.