Electronic messaging services provided to prison inmates often are “a product of questionable value at inflated prices,” contends the advocacy group Prison Policy Initiative in a new report. The group says that services characterized as “email for prisoners” have very little in common with the email available to free-world users. Some electronic messaging systems for inmates are “inbound only.” With these systems, free-world users are able to electronically send a message to an incarcerated person, but the incarcerated person must respond with a handwritten letter. Private companies charge incarcerated people and their families anywhere from 5¢ to $1.25 per message to communicate electronically.
“Calling the electronic messaging offered to incarcerated people and their families 'email' would be an insult to email,” says report author Stephen Raher. “Once again, it seems that the prison phone giants are providing more of the same old exploitation rather than providing true innovation.” The new report was submitted to the Federal Communications Commission in response to the agency’s request for comments on advanced communication services in prisons and jails. The report makes recommendations to the FCC and to other policy makers “with an eye toward transforming electronic messaging from a poorly designed and expensive technology to a fair and reasonable tool for communication.”