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Three state prisoners are challenging a policy that allows officials to open mail from inmates’ lawyers — and allegedly read and copy it — before delivering it to them. While prison officials have always inspected legal correspondence for weapons and contraband, mail from lawyers has traditionally been opened in the presence of the prisoner so the client knows it isn’t being copied or monitored. After the anthrax attacks, however, the Department of Corrections instituted a new policy to guard against mail threats: The mail would be inspected in a separate facility at the prison, resealed with evidence tape and signed by an inspector, and delivered and unsealed again in the prisoner’s presence. The policy’s most significant impact is on public defenders, who form the major contingent of counsel to convicted criminals. In a case awaiting a decision from U.S. District Judge William Walls, Allah v. Brown, No. 02-5298, three prisoners at the Eastern Jersey State Prison in Rahway claim that the policy is an unconstitutional chill on lawyer-client communications. According to the suit, one of the plaintiffs — convicted drug dealer Jamaal Allah — came to suspect his lawyer’s mail was being monitored in February 2002. On the 18th of that month — a federal holiday on which no mail is delivered — Allah was called to the mailroom to receive a letter. The unsealed envelope contained two yellow notes. They said, “[m]ake a copy for classification file” and “[a]ll of this mat’l [sic] goes to Mr. Allah,” according to the suit. Allah claims that other letters were slid under his cell door, rather than unsealed in his presence. The evidence tape and the signature were often missing. Since September 2002, Allah’s suit says, he received 29 pieces of legal mail. Only 10 letters were re-sealed with evidence tape and only one was signed by an inspector, the suit states. Allah is serving a five-to-10-year sentence that started in 2001. Two other inmates tell similar stories in the suit:

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