Prisoners get outgoing mail privacy

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Prisoners get outgoing mail privacy

The Ministry of Justice said yesterday it will put a halt to random inspections of mail sent by most prison inmates to better guarantee their basic rights.

Currently, inmates are required to submit their unsealed, outgoing mail to prison guards to prevent information getting out of prisons that may jeopardize security. There have also been cases of dangerous goods being sent out, such as knives or razor blades, sometimes as threats.

“The revised procedure on exchanges of mail by inmates is designed to protect inmates’ rights of having privacy in their communications, corresponding to the Constitutional Court’s judgment on the matter delivered early this year,” said the Justice Ministry.

Last February, the Constitutional Court ruled that inspections of inmates’ mail is unconstitutional because it violates their rights to privacy.

“Requiring all inmates to unseal their envelopes to enable random inspection by authorities infringes upon fundamental rights of inmates,” the Constitutional Court said in its ruling.

The nation’s highest court was ruling on a petition by a prisoner with the surname Shin who was serving his time in a prison in Masan, South Gyeongsang. Shin filed the petition after guards refused to mail a sealed envelope from him.

There are exceptions to the new leniency. Inmates serving terms for organized crime, drug trafficking or those who have violated prison rules will still be subject to random inspections. Mail between prisoners in the same jail can also be read before being sent. The revised bill, however, stipulates that when inspections occur, prison guards must notify the inmates that the mail has been opened.

The ministry also plans to enable online webcam chatting among inmates and their family members who are also incarcerated at the time in a different prison.

By Kang Jin-kyu [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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