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."

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.


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.


Anonymous said...

How does this benefit anything? What I mean is, they are in prison right? This is a punitive sentence, correct? Here again lies a problem of American perception of right versus legal. Yeah, it's nice for a prisoner to have access to send and receive emails, but on what legal grounds do we allow it? and who is paying the ISP charges?

When we actually take away the TV's, the radios, the non-punishment items, then maybe we will see less crime. When they are IN jail, they should be allowed three hots and a cot. let them have Internet access when they get out.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"How does this benefit anything?"

From the article: To "reduce contraband flow and connect inmates with their families and approved contacts in the outside world"

Not to mention, if they can't use a computer, they're less likely to get a job when they get out and more likely to rob your house.

Anonymous said...

To anon at 10:16am. If you think for one moment that barbaric prison conditions prevent crime you're a fool.

Young men have for centuries have willingly gone into combat to be killed. If by some remote chance they can comprehend what prison is like, it is not likely to be a deterrant any more than getting shot at is a deterrant to going to war.

The vast marjority of prisoners are eventually released. Personally I'd prefer a human being to a psychotic monster created by a punative prison system.

Anonymous said...

Let me guess, the taxpayer gets to pay for a computer for the FELON to use. What about all those hardworking taxpayers who can't afford a computer? This is just plain stupid. Let the FELONS families pay for the computers and I'll agree to it.
By the way, our PUBLIC SCHOOLS provide computer education courses as early as junior high school. So what you proposing to me is it takes being incarcerated to make one want an education.
FREE, working a full time and part-time job and paying taxes. Sick of the whining and excuses of those who prey on US

Anonymous said...

When will you people get it? Like providing intensive treatment to juveniles with violent histories, this will also prove to be fiscally conservative policy (i.e., It will save money). They have to pay to use the computer so the system will really likely pay for itself. Fewer letters to move, open, and read. Actually having people sit down and write what they are wanting to communicate will also have a positive impact. Imagine that literacy rates may actually increase!

It should also be noted this is not "internet access" this is simply another way to send "mail."

Also it does not take much of a computer to send and receive email. Please, the fiscal benefits in terms of volume of mail and staff resources will more than pay for the computers.

Anonymous said...

to anon @ 9.26 ~ So you would advocate inmates having nothing at all I assume? OK, in the USA you have a great empirical study base: Federal Prison and TDCJ; 2 ends of a wide spectrum. TDCJ inmates have pretty much nothing, Fed inmates possibly have the best living conditions of all inmates in the US. Is TDCJ receiving fewer inmates these days? Based on your assumptions the answer would be no, the prisons are almost empty in TDCJ because we give them nothing so they dont want to return.
Actually, giving inmates nothing makes them more difficult, dangerous and expensive to manage.

jailhouselawyer said...

I sent that article to the Director General of Prisons and Probation, Phil Wheatley, and he intends to investigate it more with the aim of allowing those prisoners in the UK access to emails.

I already get prisoners accessing my blog and emailing me from their mobile phones.

In my view technology has moved forward, and it stands to reason the prison world will also move forward.

Anonymous said...

For those people that think that this is bad you are all insane! Does the public realize that the majority of federal prisoners are in for white collar crimes and in reality should not even be behind bars. This is what needs to be addressed in dollars and cents. Let them have e-mail access. If you read the articles, the public does not pay for this system that is used. Get your facts straight before writing things that are not true or if you just don't know what you are talking about. Do people know that people in state prisons actually get less time for very serious crimes than those people in federal prisons that have actually not harmed anyone?!! Let these people have e-mail access so that when they get out they can actually be some what acclimated with the outside "real" world" If you have read the articles, not everybody has e-mail access. The prisoners in federal high level prisons don't have access. The low level inmates have access. How many people have aactually not told the entire truth in filing an income tax return? You know what you have just never been caught, and you've broken the law. These are the people that that our federal justice system are putting away and our tax dollars are paying for this. Now, that's insanity. For those people who are wondering how I know these things, well it's because I'm an attorney. Don't throw stones in a glass house, because you could be next.

Anonymous said...

I think it is a stretch to say that white collar criminals have not hurt anyone...also i think it is really a stretch to say that someone went to prison for "not telling the whole truth" on their tax return...

Unknown said...

Anon @9:26, as already pointed out, they would be paying for the privilege. So I don't know where your rage comes from.

Anonymous said...

Well anonymous, Would you deny a prisoner contact with his/her family?

And isn't email a lot cheaper than sending a letter? The ISP charges amount to what? $30 per month for a DSL connection for an entire prison. A drop in the bucket compared to what it costs for stamps and envelopes.

The more time people spend communicating with the outside, the more chance they have of possibly re-adapting when they get out.

Chris A. said...

I think it is a stretch to say that white collar criminals have not hurt anyone...also i think it is really a stretch to say that someone went to prison for "not telling the whole truth" on their tax return...

People do, in fact, go to prison every year for cheating on their taxes. And it doesn't matter the amount. Even one penny of "fudging" is considered Lying on a Federal Form as well as purjery, both are felonies, and will get at least a year in federal prison. And you will do the whole time there. How do I know? I am going to prison for this. 15 months. Now you know.

willson said...

love to see this discussion! It’s great to see you all working through the issues and also, it’s great to see recommendations for testing. In the end, it’s what your actual users do and prefer that should be your biggest driver in making these decisions.
internet work parttime

David in South Florida said...

Email takes a load off the CO's. Ever watch these "Locked Up" shows. LSD is placed on the same paper as a letter, A pad of writing paper has Meth in the binding, and a dozen other ways. With email the CO can scan it and not be concerned with contra band. Same with out going, it's probably easier to read a typed letter for unauthorized content then some chicken scratch.

It allows much faster communication, and as for ISP, what state does not have a backbone of it's own?

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Anonymous said...

You know you all missed the real point the prisoners are paying for it you idiots. Did you not read about the 5 cent per min charge to read and compose emails. mutiply that by hundred to fifteen hundred prisoners per prison. Duh!! If they pay for it what is it to you.
Also if you think prison is so wonderfully easy go committ a crime and enjoy otherwise shut up!!

Rosemary said...

I volunteer many hours at a books-to-prisoners program, one of maybe 30 in the US, and I have just started to correspond with prisoners as well as send educational books. In 3 years, inmates' letters have been SO polite and so grateful for the free books we provide, even if we are late filling "orders." Dictionaries and thesauruses are the most popular request, followed by history, philosophy, how to start a business, trade skills, fiction and classic literature--etc.

Prisoners are at all educational levels and are interested in ALL subjects--because they are you and me, but unluckier. The lucky ones get released, and books can change their attitudes and interests, helping them and their families and society! It's a proven fact that books help prisoners avoid coming back to prison, and help them keep their sanity in prison. Many prisoners are helping other inmates learn to read or learn another language; many prisoners learn to draw and can sell or barter their artwork.

Many prisoners are indigent or have been abandoned by their relatives--they need a penpal to write to them at least once in while, and my colleague and I are recruiting people to write to a prisoner who has an interest in common with them. If you want to support our work helping human beings, send money or stamps to Book'Em, PO Box 71357, Pittsburgh PA 15213 to help with postage, tape & dictionaries. Tax-deductible!