Problems With Federal Prisons’ Decision To Scan Personal Mail
When someone is sent to prison, it’s because they’ve been found guilty of a crime and it’s been determined that they owe a debt to society. Prisoners endure many restrictions and supervision—and rightly so. But at what point does prisoner surveillance go too far? We may be finding out in federal prisons.
MailGuard claims to eradicate two of what they call the biggest problems in the corrections world: incoming contraband and clandestine communications. They say they do this free of charge with what they call a virtual mailroom where inmate mail is scanned and delivered electronically, or copied and handed out. Instead of physical letters, inmates read their mail in a kiosk or on a Tablet. In some cases, the scanned documents are printed off and delivered to inmates. Easy Peasy. Sounds like all upside and no drawbacks. Or does it?
A Big Downside
Civil rights organizations and others across the country are beyond concerned about the intrusion of MailGuard into jails and prisons in the United States. The problems cross a range of issues:
It’s Inhumane: Refusing to allow inmates to receive personal mail cuts at their human dignity and further isolates them. For many, mail is their primary communication with the outside world. Loved ones who cannot visit or call send their hopes and prayers—not to mention photos, through the mail. Supporting a mail system that is this cruel and depersonalized is taking the prison system in the wrong direction.
Scans Often Degrade Quality: All too frequently, letters and pictures are of such poor resolution that recipients—particularly those with visual challenges—have difficulty reading letters or seeing details in photographs. And it is incontrovertible that even the highest quality scan doesn’t compare to an original handwritten letter, photo, or drawing.
Mental Health Issues: As one county sheriff puts it, limiting mail to inmates can result in escalating mental health challenges, and even violent episodes among inmates. There are plenty of studies that indicate that prisoners with effectively unlimited family contact through the mail do better than those who face heavy restrictions.
Private Companies Shouldn’t Profit Off of Incarcerated People: Prisoners are already paying exorbitant prices for phone calls and are limited on visitation. There is nothing smart about putting money into private industry when prisons are intended to be non-profit organizations working to address one of society’s biggest issues. To be clear, despite claims that services are free, MailGuard is raking in billions of dollars.
It’s Surveillance on Steroids: These mail services access all kinds of personal information about senders, which is stored for seven or more years. For senders who don’t wish to have a semi-permanent digital footprint of their pictures and words, this can be alarming, leading some to limit what they send. Truly, while a quick look at someone’s mail might alert staff to a potential threat, storing mail electronically means there is a record that transcends years. Privacy concerns alone should be enough to tank the entire system.
It Doesn’t Solve Contraband Issues: Very little contraband enters prisons through the mail. Arguably, the majority of the drugs and other banned items come in through guards and prison staff.
The Workload has Swelled for Prison Staff: It takes more people to complete the scanning process than it did to open and browse mail with the former system, so personnel spend their time in mail rooms rather than doing other necessary jobs.
Mistakes are Made: Confidential legal mail is sometimes put through the scanning process.
It Takes Longer to get Mail to Recipients: Mail delivery is held up for inmates, who often count mail time as the highlight of the week.
The March for Justice
The Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at Lobo Law are disgusted by the tyrannical decision of the Bureau of Prisons to let private companies cash in to the detriment of the inmate population, solving problems that don’t exist. Our advocacy is always directed at achieving the best possible outcomes for those accused of criminal activity. If you find yourself in need of a vigorous legal defense, contact us for a confidential consultation today.