Not an entirely lost art . . .

Brandt v. Menard2019 VT 32

By Elizabeth Kruska

A wise man once said, “when you control the mail, you control… information.” OK, maybe a wise man wrote the line. Oh, to be able to write like Larry David. But, I write like Elizabeth Kruska, so that’s what you’re getting.

Anyway, at relevant times, Mr. Brandt was an inmate serving a Vermont sentence. When someone’s in jail, his or her ability to communicate is somewhat restricted. Lots of inmates turn to the lost art of letter writing to stay in touch. And they send those letters through the mail.

As you can imagine, the Department of Corrections has some regulations around mail. And as you can probably also imagine, this can cause some complications. It also causes problems if Vermont inmates are housed somewhere other than Vermont. Not to get too complicated on it, there is also an interstate compact on corrections, which also comes into play if Vermont inmates are housed elsewhere.

Here, Mr. Brandt wanted to send letters to other inmates who were not in DOC custody. If I read this correctly—and I may not be reading it correctly—he wanted to send letters to another inmate who was in the custody of another jurisdiction while he was housed in Pennsylvania. He was still under a Vermont sentence, but just physically located in Pennsylvania. He and DOC appear to have come to an agreement about mail.

But then DOC moved Mr. Brandt to Mississippi (it was nothing personal; I believe they weren’t housing people in Pennsylvania anymore). But the Mississippi facility isn’t one that belongs to the interstate compact, thus raising the US Mail issue again.

Mr. Brandt contends that he sent mail to other inmates, but that it was all returned. This isn’t what he thought was going to happen under this prior agreement with DOC, and thus appeals.

There are some disputed facts, and SCOV rightly says this is best handled in the trial court. So, back it goes to the trial court for hearing.