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What Passes for Email in Prison

W. Scott Cole

Posted on November 6, 2019 23:22

1 user

Email is something we all take for granted. It is an integral part of our lives, even taking the place of snail mail for the most part. Email in prison is something completely different . . . when it exists.

You can open up your email account and check your email any time you want. Sending and receiving email is free, fast and easy. There is literally no cost for email beyond your monthly charge to the internet provider you use.

Behind the fences and razor wire, email can morph into something completely different, sometimes even something unrecognizable, in the prisons that allow email. Not all of them do, and even the ones that do allow it can - and usually do - change the way it operates.

In Colorado, you can send an inmate an email, if you have an account with a company named JPay. The inmate will receive a printout of the email at mail call and can respond only through regular email. If the inmate has been able to purchase the “tablet” offered on the canteen, he can receive email on it, if the person sending the email has an account with GlobalTel*Link, the company that makes the tablets. In either case, the email goes through a prison server and is scanned like normal mail before it is delivered to the inmate.

Before you ask, yes, emails cost money in prison. Across the country, it can cost anywhere from a nickel to $1.25 for each email going in or out. That is text only. Per page. Graphics add to the cost, and many prison systems put a limit on how long an email can be, ranging anywhere from 1,500 characters to 6,000 characters. That is characters, not words. To give you a rough idea of how long such emails can be, a 500-word TLT post is in the neighborhood of 3,000 characters.  

The money adds up for JPay and the prison systems that use their electronic messaging system, which get a percentage of the money spent. In Michigan alone, prison inmates send 800,000 to 1,000,000 messages a month through the JPay system.

There are also a few traps the wise person should look out for before deciding to use a prison email system. Until 2015, JPay had a small paragraph hidden in its user agreement that gave JPay intellectual property rights to anything sent through its system That means if an inmate wrote a poem and sent it to his family, that poem belonged to JPay. If a five-year-old drew a picture that was sent to daddy in prison, that picture belonged to JPay. Reading user agreements carefully makes sense, even if that paragraph no longer exists in JPay’s documents.

Just like the phone systems, email in the prison system seems to be nothing more than a way for a couple of companies, in concert with prison systems, to reap huge windfalls from a portion of society that can least afford to pay it. Like the phone systems, prison advocates need to push back on the costs.

Finally, an update to my last TLT: Oklahoma commuted the sentences of over 450 inmates on Nov. 1 and has begun the process of releasing them.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on November 6, 2019 23:22

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Source: NPR
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