The reality of US jails and prisons is that incarcerated people are cut off from the outside world. They are not allowed to receive letters or photos from friends and family.
Incarcerated people in the United States are cut off from the outside world. They are not allowed to receive letters or photos from friends and family. This policy is cruel and inhumane, and it violates the human rights of incarcerated people, says Human Rights Watch.
Mail bans are a tragic reality in US jails and prisons. This policy is motivated by the false belief that incarcerated people are a threat to public safety. In reality, mail bans serve no purpose other than to isolate and dehumanise people who are already suffering.
There is growing opposition to mail bans, and a growing movement to fight for the human rights of incarcerated people.
Last month, New York City added its jails to a growing list of facilities across the United States opting to provide incarcerated people with digital copies of their mail instead of physical mail. The digital mail system, which is already used in correctional facilities in a number of states, allows inmates to view and manage their personal correspondence electronically.
The decision to switch to digital mail was made in an effort to reduce the amount of contraband that enters jails through the mail system. Inmates will still be allowed to receive physical mail from their loved ones, but it will be scanned and converted into a digital format before being delivered to them. The new system will also save the city money on postage and paper costs.
These efforts to digitise physical mail may seem innocuous, but they provide a lifeline for incarcerated people and positively affect both their mental health and re-entry efforts. Digitization is often farmed out to private vendors resulting in blurry, delayed, and incomplete scans sent and viewed on devices that commonly malfunction. For incarcerated people, physical mail is often one of the few ways to stay connected to the outside world. Birthday cards, children’s school photos, and other pieces of mail provide a much-needed connection to loved ones.
Recent changes in some states to ban physical mail in favour of digitization is resulting in new fees that incarcerated individuals and their families cannot afford, in addition to the already existing fees for basic goods and services. In North Carolina, for example, it now costs 49 cents to send a digital one-and-a-half-page letter, with additional price increases for every photograph or drawing added. In Florida, it costs 10 cents per page to print black-and-white copies of the digital scans, or $1 USD per page for colour copies. These new fees are yet another financial burden for those who are incarcerated, and their families, who are struggling to make ends meet.
Authorities say that digitising mail is necessary to prevent drugs or other unauthorised items from entering facilities through the mail. However, many experts argue that this justification is not valid, as physical mail is not a significant source of contraband. For example, a study in Florida found that less than two percent of contraband items came through the mail. In Missouri, where physical mail is banned for prisoners, there has been an increase in drug overdoses. And in Texas, where prisons have restricted mail, the availability of drugs has continued to increase. Instead, investigations point to corrupt correctional staff, not mail, as the major source of contraband, undermining any security arguments on the need for scanning.
The obstacles that people who are incarcerated face in maintaining ties to their communities are enormous. The authorities should incentivize such connections, not create new obstacles.
The incarcerated population is one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. They are cut off from the outside world, and their ability to communicate with family and friends is limited. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, which can make it difficult to adjust to life on the outside after they are released.
Maintaining ties to their communities is essential for surviving the dehumanisation of incarceration and improving outcomes once released. The authorities should incentivize such connections, not create new obstacles.