Bureau of Prisons to Consider Digitizing Mail to Inmates
The Prison Policy Initiative reports that the Bureau of Prisons is piloting a service called MailGuard, which "scans incarcerated people’s letters from home and gives them printed or digital copies instead."
The BOP's mail policy has changed over the years. Our office sent a color calendar to our clients in years past because someone told me that the incarcerated persons liked them. Those color calendars are no longer allowed at this point an we had to discontinue the practice.
The basic idea would be that if you had a loved one in Federal Prison you would write them a letter. Upon receipt, the BOP would scan that letter and notify the incarcerated person of its receipt. The letter would either be reprinted or emailed to the person. The incarcerated person would NOT receive the original letter.
When I read this at first, it seemed awfully silly and duplicative. Instead of handing incarcerated persons their mail and going on with the day, the federal prison system is going to...add an extra step? Meanwhile our office has Freedom of Information Requests that we sent off last year that have not been addressed.
This is not the first time that this has been considered; similar plans have been considered in the Florida Department of Corrections and Pennslyvania has already done this. Advocates of such a plan believe in it for safety of guards and staff as well as preventing contraband getting inside the prison.
Four Reasons why Digitizing Mail is a Bad Idea
- Digitizing Mail hinders the rehabilitation process. Contact from loved ones is essential to the rehabilitation process. Everyone knows this; it's why prisons allow visits from loved ones and mail itself. It is also why letters from loved ones are important for a clemency petition or a compassionate release motion. Digitizing mail possibly diminishes the effect that mail has on inmates and weakens the bond between the incarcerated person and their loved ones, which may allow for increased recidivism.
- It makes corporations richer on the backs of loved ones of inmates. The Appeal and The Philadelphia Inquirer state in Pennslyvania, the digitization of mail costed the state (and its taxpayers) $15 million dollars. And that is just in one state; as a corollary, the Marshall Project and the Prison Policy Initiative state that "39 cents of every dollar spent on inmate calls — $386 million a year — cover fees. An additional $460 million each year goes back to states or corrections departments." In the federal prison we know that frequently it is either the loved ones paying for their incarcerated persons to afford to call or the inmates themselves are putting forth their work paychecks in order to afford to call. We find that the increased costs for inmates, their families or the public at large to pay is unconscionable for mail that they are already getting now for the cost of postage.
- There is no proof that limiting mail prevents contraband or makes prisons safer. The Appeal notes that in Pennslyvania, where staff reported symptoms such as "included elevated blood pressure, dizziness, migraines, and tingling extremities" after a possible exposure to K2 in the mail, questions existed about the feasibility of the symptoms and the effect of the exposure:"However, toxicology experts have poked holes in the official version of events, stating that simply touching K2 should not cause exposure to the drug. They have suggested that it might be “mass psychogenic illness,” where symptoms are similar to anxiety. The DOC has also not released any biological testing results, such as blood or urine tests, which would prove drug exposure."
Source: Raven Rakia, The Appeal, Pennslyvania Prisons Hired a Private Company to Intercept and Store Prisoner's Mail.
And in Texas, where new rules were established curtailing mail in 2020, "agency data show guards are finding just as many drugs and writing up even more prisoners for having them[:]"
“When visitation stopped and Inspect 2 Protect was in place, why was there still a large number of drugs coming in?” said one man who was released from prison in December. “The majority of stuff comes in through the officers, that’s just the bottom line.”
"Sometimes, staff can make a few thousand extra dollars a month smuggling in contraband, according to prisoners who’ve paid them. At one unit, one man said guards usually make $1,000 each time they smuggle in a package of contraband — whether it’s cell phones, SIM cards or drugs."
“They become very comfortable with the idea of making an extra $3,000 a month,” he said. “Here’s a phrase we use right here: ‘Hey, are you interested in making a little extra money?’”
Source: Keri Blakinger, The Marshall Project, Texas Prisons Stopped In-Person Visits and Limited Mail. Drugs Got in Anyway.
There is no indication that the Federal Bureau of Prisons is any different.
- Digitizing Mail may have a deleterious effect on attorney-client communication. Many incarcerated persons are unable to use the email system in the federal prisons. These persons are dependent on mail. There are substantial questions about whether communication that is scanned into a computer system constitutes a waiver of attorney client privilege. Digitization of mail may prevent attorneys and their clients from communicating with each other via the mail, which given the circumstances, may be the only way to communicate with certain clients.
The Digitization of Inmate Mail is a bad idea that has no proof of effectiveness. The BOP's pilot program should be stopped and ceased as soon as possible.