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Pro Bono Victory Protects Attorney-Client Communications for Incarcerated Individuals in PA

On October 30, 2018 by Schnader in Alternative Dispute Resolution

UPDATE: March 25, 2019. A draft settlement in this matter has now been finalized, a month after suspending the trial in federal court following the first day of testimony by witnesses for the plaintiffs. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) has agreed to stop all photocopying of legal mail as of April 6.

The new process for handling legal mail sent to prisoners minimizes the risk of rejecting legitimate, privileged attorney-client communications and prevents unauthorized disclosure of those communications. The revised screening procedures are also designed to assist the DOC’s efforts against drug use in the prisons. Under the settlement, the organizational plaintiffs in the case will monitor data and work with DOC to ensure the new procedures are effective and are sufficiently protective of client confidentiality.

The DOC should be applauded for its efforts to stop access to drugs while following new procedures consistent with the constitutional rights of prisoners. This settlement is a win for all concerned.

In pursuing its longstanding mission for “the higher calling of the law,” Schnader believes that the fundamental rights of all individuals must be protected. This includes the right to confidential attorney-client communications for everyone, including those whom we represent in pro bono matters such as this litigation.

Schnader’s legal team for this matter was led by Keith Whitson and included Danielle Bruno, Osazenoriuwa Ebose, Daniel Lawn, Stephanie Short, and Paul Titus. We partnered in this litigation with the ACLU of PA, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, the Abolitionist Law Center, and the Amistad Law Project.


October 30, 2018. A team led by Keith E. Whitson, Managing Partner of Schnader’s Pittsburgh Office, is representing incarcerated individuals and nonprofit organizations in litigation aimed at stopping the unconstitutional practice of confiscating and copying all incoming legal mail by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC). Schnader’s team also includes Stephanie A. Short, Danielle T. Bruno, and Paul H. Titus.

This policy, newly adopted in September, disregards the privileged nature of attorney-client communications and irrevocably compromises the confidentiality of those communications. As a result, public defenders, other attorneys and legal organizations throughout the Commonwealth have been forced to cease any communication by mail with their incarcerated clients. The DOC’s new policy substantially interferes with the First Amendment rights of both the attorneys and their clients and is causing significant hardship. 

This federal complaint was filed on October 30 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs represented by Schnader include incarcerated individuals and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP), Abolitionist Law Center (ALC), Amistad Law Project (ALP), and American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA).

Click here to read the press release for this matter dated October 30. And click here for links to the complaints filed in these cases.