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Minnesota State Prisoners Gain Access to Email

A modified email system has been established by Minnesota prison system to allow state prisoners to receive, but not send emails to approve outside parties. This week the state began allowing all in state prisons to receive printed emails sent to computers in prison mailrooms that print them out and forward them to prisoners with their regular mail.

A growing number of states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons also have some form of email system for prisoners. Prison officials and other corrections experts have long recognized that assisting prisoners in maintaining contact with the outside world decreases tension, isolation, and loneliness that are all part of being confined away from family and friends.

Advanced Technologies Group of West Des Moines, Iowa recently signed a contract with the state of Minnesota after operating a six-month pilot program in its prison system. Atul Gupta, the CEO of the company, says that the Federal Bureau of Prisons began using a form of its system since 2004. So far six state have allowed prisoners email, and the company processes messages for more than 250,000 prisoners nationwide, who receive a half million messages every day. The company software screens the messages for words or phrases for possible security threats, which it then forwards to prison officials.

Responding to those who question why prisoners deserve such a system, Gupta responded that, "people think that you're doing these things for (prisoners) who really shouldn't be getting anything. You're giving them email ... (but) it's not really email. It's a communications system. Ultimately, it truly comes down to is it's supposed to be a bad place and why are we coddling them and why are we spending money on them."

Gupta went on to point out that the system costs the prison system and taxpayers nothing, with those who send the messages paying to do so. "Most states, what they will do is they will look at it in terms of saying, 'hey, can we generate some revenue? Let's do that.' "

According to Gupta, Minnesota prison officials seem to recognize the importance of maintaining family ties, ao they are more likely to re-adjust to society after they are released. "We're getting them ready for society. Otherwise, they're going to come right back, and that's not what we want, "Gupta said.

The first week of service during the first three days more than 250 emails were delivered to prisoners, at a rate of 30 cents per message; 10 cents of that goes to the company and 20 cents goes to the state. According to Minnesota Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner Terry Carlson, "We're going to be evaluating it to find out if we should expand to allow offenders to send message back to their family and friends. The system is set up so it's secure. The (prisoners) won't have access to the Internet." He also noted that the money received by the state covers the cost to operate the system.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons email system is also a proven revenue stream, which, along with prisoner phone expenditures and commissary sales, provides a fund to pay for prisoner recreation expenses so that the expense does not have to be borne by the taxpayer. The Bureau of Prisons system does provide for prisoners to email messages to approve outside individuals or businesses, also with word and phrase screening software.

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