email for prisoners highly successful

Email systems for prisoners enhance public safety.  Prisoners’ hand-written letters are difficult and costly to monitor, archive, and search.  Monitoring, archiving, and searching email can be done much more effectively.  That helps crime investigations and crime prevention.

Email for prisoners helps to reduce recidivism.  Email has become a standard form of communication.  Prisoners’ ties with friends and family are important for their re-integration into productive, law-abiding society.  Being incarcerated often involves loss of job, loss of living place, loss of driver’s license, and many other dislocations from ordinary life.  Prisoners need communication with the outside world to return successfully to it.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has implemented an email service for prisoners across all BOP prisons.  On August 24, 2007, the email system had been implemented at 14 BOP prisons.  The 12,000 prisoners served by that date had exchanged 8,250,000 emails with 76,000 members of the public.[1]  In July, 2008, at the Coleman federal correctional complex, emails averaged nearly one per inmate per day.[2]  BOP officials recently noted that email service volumes had doubled from 2009 to 2010, and they expect volumes to continue growing in 2011.[3]  Part of that growth comes from implementing email in new prisons.  As of Feb. 2, 2011, email had been implemented at all U.S. federal prisons.[4]

BOP’s prisoner email system differs in important ways from text messaging systems in common use outside prisons.  Prisoners use a specifically designed terminal to send and receive text email messages.  They pay 5 cents per minute to read and compose messages, and 15 cents per page-side to print messages.  Prisoners cannot access the Internet, and they can exchange text emails only with persons on their approved contact list.  Prisoners’ emails are monitored and archived.[5]

State prisons are also implementing email service for prisoners.  The Advanced Technologies Group (ATG), a major technology supplier for BOP, began implementing two-way email in Iowa state prisons in April, 2010.  In November, 2010, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections selected ATG to provide email to Oklahoma state inmates.  In May, 2011, Minnesota selected ATG to provide email for Minnesota state prisoners.  In September, 2010, ATG processed its hundred-millionth prisoner email.[6]  Given the benefits of prisoner email for public safety and prisoner re-entry into society, other states are likely to adopt such systems soon.

Prisoners are auspicious customers for new communications services.

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[1] Advanced Technologies Group, “ATG’s Inmate Email System processes over 8,000,000 messages,” Press Release, Aug. 24, 2007.  ATG operates BOP’s prisoner email system.  A pilot program was operating at the Coleman Federal Prison Camp and Low Security Correctional Institution by October, 2005.  The American Bar Association urged full implementation of the system in a letter dated Feb. 24, 2006.  By May, 2006, the service had been extended to the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, and the Federal Prison Camp in Montgomery, Alabama.  More than 30 federal prisons had email service by April, 2009.

[2] USA Today, “Letters from federal prisoners going electronic,” published Aug. 16, 2008.  According to this news article:

Scott Middlebrooks, the warden at Coleman federal prison northwest of Orlando, said his inmates sent more than 3,200 messages and received some 2,800 a day last month through the system, which is called TRULINCS and run by Iowa-based Advanced Technologies Group Inc.

The Federal Correctional Complex at Coleman consists of five facilities — two high-security penitentiaries, a medium-security institution, a low-security institution, and a prison camp.  The specific referent for “Coleman federal prison” in the above quote isn’t clear.  The five Coleman prison institutions had a total prisoner population of 7,489 on 10/02/08.  See BOP, State of the Bureau 2008, p. 47.  I’ve assumed above that the message-traffic figures apply to the Coleman prisoner total.  Average emails per inmate per day is estimated as (3200+2800)/7489=0.80.

[3] U.S. Government Accountability Office, Bureau of Prisons: Improved Evaluations and Increased Coordination Could Improve Cell Phone Detection, Sept. 2011, p. 15.

[4] U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, TRULINCS FAQs.  TRULINCS (Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer System) is the name of the BOP email system.

[5] For information about the BOP email system, see the TRULINCS FAQs, BOP Program Statement P5265.13, and inmate handbooks for federal prisons, e.g. Inmate Handbook for FCI Morgantown, WV, p. 3.

[6] Information based on rolling news highlights on the ATG website.  In a news article dated Sept. 6, 2011, ATG’s CEO stated that ATG is currently providing email for federal prisoners and state prisoners in Oklahoma and Iowa and is doing “over 400,000 messages a day,” all sent through the Corrlinks website.

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