Missouri Prisons to Eliminate Physical Inmate Mail to Curtail Drugs

There are mixed reactions to the change, which will apply to photos and drawings as well

click to enlarge Photo of Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Corrections Center in Bonne Terre. - GOOGLE STREETVIEW
Photo of Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Corrections Center in Bonne Terre.

Starting July 1, Missouri prison inmates will no longer receive physical personal mail.

The Missouri Department of Corrections announced last week that all their adult institutions will use a Digital Mail Center in Tampa, Florida, that will scan all inmate personal mail and then deliver a digital rendering of it to inmate tablets and other electronic devices. This includes pictures and drawings sent to inmates, which will now be delivered digitally. Mail from attorneys to inmates will still be delivered physically.

Missouri Department of Corrections Communications Director Karen Pojmann tells the RFT that the main purpose of the move is to cut down on drugs entering prisons.

"In particular, the liquid forms of drugs such as fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine, GHB, LSD and suboxone can be liquefied and soaked into the paper itself, which is hard to detect," Pojmann says. "Fentanyl can be especially potent and lead to overdose. We also find drugs hidden between the layers of greeting cards, tucked under postage stamps."

Thus far, the response to the move has been mixed.

"I love this. It's about time,” says Tim Cutt, the executive director of the Missouri Corrections Officers Association, the labor union.

The change is also intended to cut down on mail-related work that is being assigned to corrections officers. The Missouri Department of Corrections is undergoing a severe staffing shortage, which prison administration hopes the transition away from physical mail will help alleviate.
However, many who have loved ones incarcerated in Missouri prisons have decried the move to digital mail. Lori Curry, the executive director of the nonprofit Missouri Prison Reform, tells the RFT, "I don’t believe the majority of drugs come in through the mail. The amount of drugs in the prisons just could not. That would be a ton of mail."

When Curry wrote about the change on the Missouri Prison Reform blog, many responded with concerns that inmates do not always have access to electronic devices like tablets, particularly those in solitary confinement.

Curry says that many concerns are rooted in frustration over how inmate email functions, especially since the prison emailing system is run by Securus Technologies, the same company that runs the Digital Mail Center in Tampa.

"So many [photos and videos] don’t make it to the incarcerated, and there’s no reason given," Curry says. "And these pictures and videos are innocent. Pictures of people’s kids at Christmas, completely dressed and out in public. Things that should absolutely get through. Securus blames the prisons. The prisons blame Securus."

When asked about the cost of the new mailing system, Pojmann says, "We already have an ongoing contract with Securus, the company providing this service. They provide offender phone and email services. The change to the contract to include mail scanning hasn’t yet been finalized, so I can’t give you a number right now."

About The Author

Ryan Krull

Ryan Krull is a staff writer for the Riverfront Times. Find him on Twitter @ryanwkrull
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