Giving Prisoners Access to E-Mail Could Result in Safer Communities

By · Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Roberto Gabino asked some questions with regard to an article I wrote about providing e-mail access to people in prison. He wanted to know whether I thought such a program would provide criminals with more opportunity to direct criminal activity from inside prison. He also wanted to know whether I thought administrators ought to exclude some prisoners from e-mail access if such a program were implemented.

Roberto may not have been familiar with Supreme Court rulings that asserted people in prison have a Constitutionally protected right to send and receive mail. In medium- and high-security prisons, prisoners send their mail out in unsealed envelopes. Guards read through the inmate’s outgoing mail, then seal it for the postal service. In low- and minimum-security facilities, prisoners send their outgoing mail in sealed envelopes. Guards screen all incoming mail for contraband, but no carefully for content.

In light of those Constitutional protections, I submit that e-mail would result in better security and more opportunities for law enforcement to block crimes being perpetrated from inside prison boundaries. With e-mail access, administrators could screen outgoing and incoming mail more effectively. Besides screening, they would have a permanent record of all inmate correspondence. Such records could play a role in release preparations and supervision plans that probation officers would implement. Inmates who chose to use e-mail services would have to agree to such scrutiny. I am convinced an e-mail program would contribute to lower recidivism rates and safer communities.

The only prisoners I would exclude from using e-mail services would be those who refused to provide censorship rights to administrators. If the Constitution provides prisoners with access to mail services, then e-mail would be much safer for society because it offers more opportunity for effective monitoring.

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