The program, started several years ago, has reduced the amount of old-fashioned paper mail that can sometimes hide drugs and other contraband. Just as important, officials say, e-mail helps prisoners connect regularly with their families and build skills they can use when they return to the community.
For [inmate Melvin] Garcia, that means learning the computer.
"LET'S JUST SAY THAT MY PREVIOUS EMPLOYMENT DIDN'T REQUIRE IT :o)," he joked in a recent e-mail.
The system inmates use isn't like programs used in most offices and homes. Inmates aren't given Internet access, and all messages are sent in plain text, with no attachments allowed. Potential contacts get an e-mail saying a federal prisoner wants to add them to their contact list and must click a link to receive e-mail, similar to accepting a collect call from a lockup.
Once approved, prisoners can only send messages to those contacts — they can't just type in any address and hit send. And contacts can change their mind at any time and take their name off the prisoner's list. ...
The Federal Bureau of Prisons says the system pays for itself with some of the proceeds from prison commissaries. Inmates also pay 5 cents per minute while composing or reading e-mails.
Security, of course, is a concern. That's why the messages can be screened for keywords that suggest an inmate may be involved in a crime, or read by a corrections officer, just like paper letters. That can create some lag time between when messages are sent and received.
Without analyzing the program specifically, it would be impossible to tell whether inmates could abuse their e-mail privileges, said Bruce Schneier of the security firm BT Counterpane. Coded messages could be sent over e-mail, but that could happen just as easily over the phone, he said.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Federal prisoners to get limited email access by 2011
Earlier this month, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice decided to join the other 49 US states in allowing most prison inmates regular access to telephones in the face of rampant cell phone smuggling by TDCJ guards. But the federal system is doing even more to reduce contraband flow and connect inmates with their families and approved contacts in the outside world, reported USA Today (Aug. 16): "By the spring of 2011, all 114 U.S. prisons are expected to have e-mail available for inmates."