Sunday, May 09, 2010

Lawmakers surpised at TX inmates receiving email

Federal inmates already had email privileges, but apparently the Texas Legislature didn't realize they'd authorized the same thing, reports Mike Ward at the Statesman ("Inmates get email? Lawmakers want details," May 8):

Surprised by a revelation that Texas convicts can receive e-mails in state prisons, legislative leaders said Friday that they plan to investigate how the multimillion-dollar, no-bid deal came about and without any public debate.

And lawmakers and prison investigators said they have security concerns because e-mails can be sent from anonymous users with little trace of their true source.

Prison officials defended the e-mail system, saying the contract was handled properly and the system has operated without problems or security issues.

Even so, House leaders said they are researching to determine whether the e-mail system is allowed by a 2007 state law that permitted pay phones in Texas' 112 prisons.

Only incoming e-mails to convicts are allowed. In February alone, 111,000 e-mails were sent into state prisons, officials said.

Legislators said they first learned of the system in an American-Statesman report Thursday about an investigation of a prison smuggling ring, in which authorities had intercepted incoming e-mails as part of their ongoing case.

"This e-mail system may have tremendous benefits, but I have a lot of questions," said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin. "My committee is looking into this — how the contract came about, who signed it, what the rationale was behind it, whether the safeguards are appropriate, why the Legislature was kept out of the loop on this.

The security benefits are enormous from providing inmates secure avenues for legitimate communications and monitoring illicit contacts. As evidence of that effectiveness, the fact that inmates may receive email came to light after saved incoming messages helped break up a prison contraband smuggling gang. Before the new system was installed, those communications might take place through smuggled notes or illegal cell phones.

Communications, like contraband, can always enter and exit prisons through illegitimate means. So providing a venue for legitimate communication gives prison operators more tools to encourage positive interaction with family members, attorneys, etc., in the outside world and discourage or punish those violating the rules. Legislators are right to look closely at the agreement if they weren't aware of it. But when they do, I suspect they'll discover that - for the exact same reasons it was wise to install the new phone system - it makes sense to allow limited, monitored inmate email and would be a disservice to discontinue it.


sunray's wench said...

I would be hugely disappointed if the email service was suspended or discontinued. However, if it really wasn't part of the agreed deal, then it needs to be looked at properly.

What concerns me more is the fees that Jpay charge to use the service. I wonder if readers are aware that just because the cost of a pre-paid phone call using the TDCJ phone service is 24c per minute, the fees that Jpay charge to add money to the inmates' phone account is $8. So to put $10 on the phone account, you would actually have to have $18, and the cost rises incrementally depending on the amount you wish to deposit.

$8 for a few seconds "work". I'm in the wrong job.

Jennie said...

Of course it was part of the deal. Do you really think that just anyone can come in, set up computer equipment, train people on how to use it and not have prior approval?

Is it expensive? Yes. I have seen the rates go up just this year by $1 per submission of funds. It would be nice if they gave advance notice. They are not a very friendly company - customer support is a laughing matter.

And unless you know to use the small font and shorten words even sending an email is expensive.

But if I want to tell someone that important happened and get it to them a bit faster than snail mail, then it is great.

It is what it is - a service offered to families of people locked up in prison. It isn't for the inmates, it is for their family members and for the state to make money.

sunray's wench said...

Jennie said: "Of course it was part of the deal. Do you really think that just anyone can come in, set up computer equipment, train people on how to use it and not have prior approval?"

I'm having a look through the bill right now:

There is no mention anywhere in it of an email service as part of the phone deal. Jpay already have the ability to operate a funds transfer to inmates in TDCJ, and I suspect the emails are likely to be part of THAT contract rather than the phone one that Sen. Whitmire thinks it belongs to.

I really think that based on prior and current evidence, anyone with a bit of money and the right friends can get just about anything done in TX.

TDCJEX said...

This is election year grandstanding at it's worse . The emails have been a win win for every one . They help family and friends maintain contact with prisoners and that helps reduce many of the problems n prison . A email can be saved and re read or printed at any time . Unlike a letter. It reduces contraband and makes it easier to catch it . Did Whitmire bother to notice that because of the email s and phones that TDCJ was able to investigate and break up a major contraband operation . Involvement Bosses and rank ? Has Whitmire read it has raised revenue and helped solve serious problems with contraband and probably has saved a number of lives and people on both sides if the razor wire from serious harm. ? Does TDCJ have to ask Whitemire permission to do everything .

Whitmire is looking for a politically safe group to use as a whipping boy and burnish his “tough on crime” credentials with out really solving or doing anything It is obvious he is still upset that Tabler called him on a contraband cell phone that got into Polunsky Death Row via a few dirty bosses thaqt is the only way a prisoner on Polunsky Death Row will get a cellphone .Does any one believe that Whitmire would be “Upset about JPAY Emails ? If Joe Averages family was called and threatened by a clearly insane prisoner such as Tabler . I am still waiting for the bosses and rank to be arrested and prosecuted . Though I know it is never going to happen . Maybe instead of whining he got left out of a decision Whitmire should be demanding the bosses andrank who engage in crimes and policy violations are held fully accountable and go to prison if they committed a felony

I question Whitmires ability to be Chariman of the Senate Corrections committee If he has been unaware that for a year now some units have had the capablity ot recive secure emails . In fact JPAY is on the front page of TDCJ's site ifyou click on . He is using his postion and power to seek revenge for a pathetic deranged man calling him grow up senator . If he is unaware of JPAY Emails what else is he “unaware” of . How the hell can he not know about JPAY Emails until now.

I am guessing that as the phone lines where installed The same company installed the lines to each mail room . They are tow separate contracts . As JPAY and Embarq are two separate companies . I am thinking that the emails are usually part of deal . at any rate they cut costs for the mail room as there is less time involved in scanning letters and those flagged by STG or other investigative branches of TDCJ . Emails can easily be sent directly to that office . It could be people are confusing the two contracts.

BTW Sunray . My gal and I have been wanting it get in touch with you .

Jennie :
JPAY is offering service with expenses that regular email does not have for one u you are using a secure server that is encrypted once the files and data you send goes to JPAY it is encrypted and sent to whatever it is suppose to go . For a prison this is going to cost more. Jpay also has to set up a system that can scan the emails before they are printed. .There is the ink and paper involved in printing the email .Prisoners in TDCJ do not read a computer monitor they are given the emails asa printed letter. This cost money and companies are set up to make a profit no it is not a dirty word . Complaining about the high cost of sending money , emails and receiving phone calls is not going to get you any where. Like my self and other you have to make priorities and budgets. Rarely does any one need a daily from their “man “ in prison . Just like the rest of us they have to set priorities .

. I am glad I can email my gal I pay because it is a service just like my phone bill or any other service I want. Yes JPAY makes money off it. I do not have a problem with it.

sunray's wench said...

TDCJEX if you can find me on Twitter with the same username as here but with no space and no apostrophe, send me a private message there. Not putting my email here ;)

Jennie said...

TDCJEX - You have it wrong. I agree with the system. I think JPAY is a wonderful thing. I use it all the time for several friends and relatives. I only gripe about the fee for sending $'s. But I have learned to send funds monthly and then the cost isn't that bad.

This sevice is absolutely invaluable to family and inmates.

I know that both TDCJ and JPAY are making money and that is how it should be.

As far as paper and toner, well, I haven't seen the contract so I don't know who pays for what on that.

I wish every state used JPay or something like it.

As a programmer I am well aware that these emails are saved on a hard drive. I know that you can put key words in a table and have any letter with those words or phrases brought to the attention of the powers that be. In fact that is on of the great things about it. It will save money and personnel and help make things more safe.

I never said that I had a problem with it. I was one of the first to jump on JPay and use it almost daily.

Anonymous said...

Smells like Vita-pro to me. It'll be interesting if:

1. They truly investigate; and
2. Does it get white washed after 7 years of litigation like vita-pro did?
Maybe just getting rid of Brad Johnson and his closest minions would be a great result.

Anonymous said...

For someone in his position TWITMIRE doesn't have a clue what goes on in TDCJ. I mean all he has to do is read a few of these Blogs. Grits backgate, texas justice the officers and staff air out all the dirty laundry maybe he is scared he might learn too much and can't claim he didn't know.

Jennie said...

TWITMIRE I love it!

sunray's wench said...

The issue really is, the fact that emails were not part of the agreement when the phones system was on the table. It is not Embarq that manage the emails, it is Jpay, and they have not had to put in a separate bid to do it. It goes to show how naive the Legislators were, or how disinterested they were, in the logistics of setting up the phone system.

Jpay already had the ability to administrate deposits onto inmates' accounts, and they are creaming off the fees for depositing money into the phone accounts. I am assuming that the figures that M Lyons speaks of are taken from the 24c / 26c per minute that Embarq charge for the actual calls, not the amount on top that Jpay take in fees.

Jennie said...

I do not believe that people didn't know about it. I mean JPay is in many states. It would have had to have been discussed somewhere even if just to say "We don't want the email feature".

Somebody is lying somewhere. I didn't search for the rfp. But I would assume that the contract should be available somewhere for people to see. Or any addendums to the original agreement. Like where is the installation plan or the project plan.

I don't believe that JPay would just put this in on verbal agreement. Something has to be in writing somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Many other State prisons have had e-mail service. Another company even has the service where inmates can return e-mails. You say:"Huh? How do they do that?" They handwrite their message and it gets scanned into the computer in the mailroom.
It certainly makes things easier for everyone , including the mailroom personnel that no longer has to take the letters out to inspect them etc.
In the case of guard abuse, medical neglect and such, the inmate can immediately inform his family wo can then act on it.
Two years ago Nathaniel Quarterman went to visit Colorado State prison to by invitation of JPay ad liked what he saw. Why is everyone so interested in the contract ? Every time something good comes along for the prisoners and their families someone tries to throw in a monkey wrench. With the price of gasoline I'd rather be able to call or e-mail my loved-one than drive 400 miles round trip. So keep on bickering and watch what happens when the Lege is successful in messing this up too.

DeathBreath said...

My goodness, here again, we have the Texas legislature sporting a navel lens in order to see out of their belly button when their head is fully inserted in their arses. What buffoons. How can a prison system expect to run efficiently when idiots are running the Texas legislature? I've watched the hearings that have been held about various TDCJ foibles. When I've watched, I've noticed an excessive amount of anecdotal diarrhea and little presentation of fact. Those that appear to be listening are blithering idiots. Texas, you deserve what you get when you elect simpletons. Whitmire, you look just like a turtle. Please, pull your ugly head back inside the shell.