The Wa DOC has a singularly confusing and frustrating set of rules which defines the limit of communication between people inside and outside prison.
There is a whole list of things which are not allowed content wise; however that is a different conversation than the one I am bringing up here.
What I am focusing on today are the limits on penpals, friends, family, visitors, professionals, volunteers, and sponsors.
I’m going to leave covering rules for educational contract staff, correctional and medical contract staff, DOC staff, and c/o’s for another day.
Now, that’s quite the list right? Well, it’s not even half of the different categories of people with different rules to follow and many of these have various sub-categories. Like, “professionals” can be further divided into lawyers, clergy, and doctors, and each individual in those categories would have the rules applied to them differently for various reasons. Note: I haven’t even touched on race, class, and gender considerations. If I tried working all that into this discussion I would be typing this for a very long time.
Penpals, friends, family and visitors
First off, is the censorship. There is a whole learning curve of what we can and cannot talk about due to the mailroom’s insane interpretations of the rules.
If a person is writing multiple prisoners then everyone involved has to be super careful to not get black listed for “third party communication”.
When someone writes a person in prison they will often offer to send money, which is appreciated. However, when replying to that offer the mailroom will often claim that accepting an offer of funds is the same as soliciting funds from someone other than family and censor the letter.
On the other side, a single person on the outside that decides to send money directly to someone in a Wa DOC prison, isn’t allowed to send money to anyone else in a Wa DOC prison.
Yet, there isn’t a law against it; it’s just the Wa DoC making it more difficult for people in prison to be anything other than poor. Furthermore, for someone like myself, the only person on the planet that meets the definition of “family” by DoC policy is my sister who is literally the last person I would ever ask for money.
Now, if a family member or penpal gets on my visiting list there are a bunch of limitations put on the person getting on my visit list. They are not allowed to get onto someone else’s visit list in any Wa DoC facility. They now can’t become a sponsor or volunteer at another prison, and they are not allowed to advocate to the Wa DoC for prisoners in general or specifically for anyone other than the person they have been approved to visit. Of course, the real sign that these rules are all BS is that any given facility’s superintendent can choose to waive most of these limits on a whim. No explanation or accountability required to anyone, that is, as long as nothing “bad” (as determined by the Wa DOC) happens.
Volunteers and Sponsors
This would be the group of people that have the second least tenable position in the prison (the most untenable being inmate clerks). The list of regulations for them is miles long and purposefully not clearly codified. Some things they clearly know due to the unhelpful mandatory trainings that the Wa DoC has them do every six months to a year, and having seen other sponsors get their “red badge pulled” (meaning their approval to come into the prison revoked. “Red badge” refers to the picture ID that volunteers wear into the prison.)
Things that can get their badge pulled range from giving someone in prison a hug to receiving mail from a person in prison. Notice how I phrased that, I did not say “corresponding with” or “sending a letter to” but “receiving a letter from.”
The DoC is so draconian about lines of communication that if a formally incarcerated person runs into a sponsor from a program they participated in at the grocery store, that could potentially get the sponsor’s red badge pulled.
They cannot advocate for an individual prisoner in court, at a clemency hearing for example.
According to the DoC, a sponsor must ask permission of the DoC before reporting on something that happened in the prison to the police. Do otherwise and lose their clearance to come in to the prison and help people.
And while I’m on the subject, there is currently a problem for various outside sponsors losing their red badge because they haven’t done a training that the DoC hasn’t developed yet. So they have to take this one particular online training class to keep their badge, yet not only is the training not available, it doesn’t even exist!
The DOC really doesn’t like this category, just as a whole. Spiritual leaders, lawyers, doctors, and mental health providers all, by federal mandate, have the right to show up at a prison with their qualifications in hand and say “I want to talk to [name and DOC number]. Please get them and give us a room.” And the DOC has to get the person in question and let them know they have a visitor.
Here’s the catch: the DOC is notorious for claiming the incarcerated person doesn’t want to see the visitor or claim the professional isn’t qualified by whatever BS standard, and then “strongly encourage” them to get on that person’s visit list.
Some professionals have even more access. For example, Disability Rights Washington is contracted with the Wa DOC to provide federally mandated oversight on the treatment of disabled people. This means they can come in wander around the prison, interview random people, even ask the Wa DOC to put a list of people on a callout for a group interview regarding the treatment of disabled people in the prison.
And, yes. You guessed it… The Wa DOC really doesn’t like this.
Keep in mind, this is a very bare bones summary. See the (many!) Wa DOC policies on this for a scary, confusing, and more complete picture.