Jackson County is one of 12 Oregon counties that next month will begin restricting jail inmates' outgoing social mail to postcards.

Jackson County is one of 12 Oregon counties that next month will begin restricting jail inmates' outgoing social mail to postcards. By spring, incoming mail also will be limited to postcards.

Jail officials said the move will save money.

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters said it can take up to two hours to sort through and open inmate mail before it is delivered to the holding cells.

"We are always looking to do things cheaper and more efficient," Winters said. "This is just another way we can save the people of this county money."

Washington County Jail Cmdr. Marie Tyler said incoming mail will not have to be opened, and postcards will make it more difficult for contraband to be smuggled into the jail.

Lt. Lee Eby, of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Department, said the postcard system will free up a jail staffer from examining incoming mail and allow that person to do other administrative jobs.

"We always need more staff, and we deal with what we have," he said.

"Being able to shift some of these critical duties to office staff would be beneficial for us."

Jail representatives said they did not know exactly how much money the change would save.

Winters said inmates in the downtown Medford facility have attempted to sneak in drugs and plan crimes via mail. He pointed to the case of Eric One Ziegler, who was convicted of a large spree of identity thefts and continued to swipe victims' personal information while in prison.

"He was using the mail to conduct crimes from behind bars," Winters said. "We hope this new system can put a stop to that."

Inmates will be able to buy a 5-by-8-inch postcard, including postage, for 55 cents.

Envelopes will still be allowed for official correspondence, such as letters to and from lawyers and job information.

Jann Carson, associate director of the ACLU of Oregon, calls the policy unfortunate. Carson said it's important for those serving jail time to stay connected with their families and their community.

Multnomah County leaders considered the idea but decided not to make the change, a sheriff's office spokeswoman said.

"We just want them to have open communication with their family and loved ones, and a postcard limits communication with less space," Lt. Mary Lindstrand said of inmates.

Tyler and Eby said there will be no limit on the number of postcards that can be sent out. As for the lack of privacy, Eby said inmates already give up most of their rights to privacy when they are put in jail.

"To say their privacy is gone is pretty ridiculous," Eby said. "If they want to say emotional stuff they can."

Still, Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the New York-based National Lawyers Guild, said prisoners will not be able to express themselves in a single postcard, and it's part of a trend to depersonalize those who are incarcerated.

Adam Lovell runs the Florida-based Web site WriteAPrisoner.com. He said it's therapeutic for inmates to discuss their feelings with those outside jail walls.

Winters said there is an easy way for inmates to avoid the hassle of having to send mail out of the jail on postcards.

"Don't go to jail," Winters said. "Make the right choices in your life, and don't end up behind bars. Then you don't have to worry about someone reading your mail."

Counties that will restrict inmate mail to postcards after the first of the year include Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Curry, Deschutes, Harney, Jackson, Josephine, Malheur, Tillamook, Umatilla and Washington.

Reporter Chris Conrad contributed to this story. Reach him at 776-4471, or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.