Thousands of prisoners at more than 20 federal facilities are now able to use e-mail, reports the Associated Press. By the spring of 2011, all 114 U.S. prisons are expected to have e-mail available for inmates. The program has reduced the amount of old-fashioned paper mail that can sometimes hide drugs and other contraband. E-mail also helps prisoners connect regularly with their families and build skills they can use when they return to the community.
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. Contacts can change their mind at any time and take their name off the prisoner’s list. Scott Middlebrooks, the warden at Coleman federal prison near 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 Bureau of Prisons says the system pays for itself; inmates pay 5 cents per minute while composing or reading e-mails. Messages can be screened for key words that suggest an inmate may be involved in a crime.