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Civil Rights Clinic Scores Win on Behalf of Incarcerated Individuals

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Sturm College of Law

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When Tiffany McCoy approached the University of Denver Sturm College of Law Civil Rights Clinic (CRC) she had one simple, but incredibly meaningful, request: to receive original greeting cards while incarcerated. Through collaborative work with Ms. McCoy and the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC), CRC student attorneys Alexandra Parrott, JD’19, and Justin Yanowicz, 3L, successfully restored her rights, and those of incarcerated individuals all over the state, to hold and experience items that were personally touched and written by loved ones.

“We’re happy Ms. McCoy’s advocacy achieved this great result,” said Alexandra Parrott, one of Ms. McCoy’s student attorneys. “Hopefully, this also signifies the beginning of a cooperative relationship between the CRC and CDOC.”

Last year, in an effort to reduce drugs entering CDOC prisons through the mail, the agency banned original greeting cards and similar items and, instead, provided individuals with black-and-white photocopies of these items.

Ms. McCoy, who is currently incarcerated at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, felt the copies were a poor substitute for an essential and unique form of communication; to her, never experiencing the cards’ colors or holding an item her loved ones touched stripped the copies of much of their value.  

She sought help with this concern through her student attorneys at the CRC, who reached out to the CDOC to address the concerns. During the discussions that followed, CRC student attorneys expressed Ms. McCoy’s concerns about the policy’s impact on prisoners’ morale, as well as her right to free speech. For Ms. McCoy, the policy was a major barrier to maintaining her ties to her family, who she relies on for support in prison and will rely on for help when she is released. CDOC conveyed its concerns about the illegal introduction of drugs into facilities and expressed a desire to work toward a mutually agreeable solution wherein introduction of drugs was reduced, and incarcerated individuals were able to enjoy the unique experience of a painting from a child or loved one.

In May, that solution was reached, and the CDOC is once again permitting incarcerated individuals to receive original greeting cards, postcards, and drawings.

“This gives me hope that things can change for the better.” Ms. McCoy said, “I used to think we, as prisoners, didn’t have a voice, but now I feel like we do.”