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Increasing Number of Prisoners Obtain Access to Email

Federal and state prisons across the country are slowly beginning to offer email access to prisoners in addition to traditional postal mail service – in some cases limited to receiving email messages, and in others allowing prisoners to send replies.

Leading the charge is the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The BOP, in conjunction with Advanced Technologies Group, an Iowa-based company that develops software solutions for correctional agencies, has developed a secure messaging system called the Trust Fund Limited Inmate Communication System (TRULINCS). TRULINCS allows prisoners to communicate directly with family members, friends, businesses and attorneys. The service operates without prisoners having direct access to the Internet.

TRULINCS is available at over a dozen BOP facilities; the system is scheduled to be implemented in all federal prisons by June 2011. Family members and friends can use the system by creating an account at after they have been added to a prisoner’s approved contact list.

TRULINCS is accessed through a workstation or kiosk that allows prisoners to compose messages and read email replies. Messages are limited to 13,000 characters (about 4½ pages), and cannot include attachments. Prisoners purchase time to use the system in blocks of 40, 100, 200, 300 or 600 minutes. Each minute costs five cents; prisoners can also print emails from a secure printing station for 15 cents a page. All messages are screened by prison officials.

There is no charge for members of the public who use TRULINCS to send and receive messages from federal prisoners. The service is available for communicating with Iowa state prisoners, too, at a cost of $.25 per email.

The TRULINCS system has been lauded for reducing incoming postal mail and contraband, decreasing the use of stamps as a form of currency in the prison setting, and providing better control over prisoner correspondence. TRULINCS is also largely self-funded through user fees and the BOP’s Inmate Trust Fund, eliminating the need for taxpayer support.

Further, the BOP has acknowledged that providing prisoners with email access has a rehabilitative component, stating, “Electronic messaging has now become a standard form of communication within most American homes and businesses, and it can now be used to help inmates stay connected to their families. Strengthening or re-establishing family ties helps inmates improve the likelihood of a successful re-entry into the community, thus reducing the potential for recidivism.”

While the TRULINCS email system has many benefits, there are some downsides. Messages sent to attorneys are not protected by attorney-client privilege. Additionally, prisoners are restricted from sending emails to certain addresses. They cannot, for example, send messages to the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General. Presumably, the BOP restricted the Inspector General’s email address to make it less convenient for prisoners to report misconduct by prison officials. This PLN writer is allowed to use TRULINCS to send Freedom of Information Act requests to the BOP as part of a settlement in a federal lawsuit. [See: PLN, June 2009, p.20].

A different email system is being used by at least seven other states, including Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas. Those states allow prisoners at some facilities to receive – and in a few cases send – electronic messages through JPay ( When emails are sent to prisoners using JPay, the messages are printed at the facility and then delivered, usually within 24 hours. The cost per email, which is paid by the prisoner’s correspondent, ranges from $.20 to $.60. JPay claims that over 1 million prisoners use its electronic messaging service.

“We really try to make things as convenient to friends and family as possible, while at the same time on the department’s point of view we try to streamline operations and save resources,” said L.D. Hay, the company’s chief marketing officer.

In addition to JPay, the Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections uses several other email systems at different facilities, including Electronic Message Exchange (EME) and SECURUS. EME is also used at two North Carolina jails, the Snake River and Warner Creek prisons in Oregon, and the Pima County Detention Center in Arizona; the service charges about $10.00 a month for sending and receiving up to 30 electronic messages.

SECURUS ( offers email delivery at various jails in Illinois, Indiana, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, Maryland and Kansas, as well as the Kentucky Dept. of Corrections, the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, and six state prisons in Pennsylvania. Fees for the company’s Secure Instant Mail start at $.50 to $1.00 per page; emails are printed at the facility and delivered to prisoners.

A smaller company, ICS Letters (, provides electronic messaging at two jails in Florida and one in Illinois. The firm previously offered email delivery at some Pennsylvania state prisons, but recently discontinued that service. ICS Letters charges $.25 to $.70 per page.

Although these electronic messaging systems are useful, consider that prisoners and their correspondents comprise the only constituency that has to pay for email, which is otherwise largely free to members of the public. While some would argue there are costs involved in prison staff having to review or print electronic messages, those costs are easily offset by staff not having to open and check postal mail for contraband. As with prison phone services, however, prisoners and their family members and friends who want to stay in touch must pay for the privilege of doing so, even with email.

Sources: Advanced Technologies Group,,,,, Associated Press

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