In today's world, technology evolves at breakneck speeds. Practically every business and institution is doing what they can to keep up with the Jones. It was only time before the nation's prison system jumped on the technological bandwagon. And now, according to an article published by USA Today, connecting prisoners with their families is easier than ever.
Email has made its way over the barbed wire and through the cement walls of more than 20 federal facilities. Thousands of inmates now have inboxes and are sending and receiving numerous emails a day compared with the previous occasional letter here and there. According to the article, "Scott Middlebrooks, the warden at Coleman Federal Prison northwest of Orlando, [says] his inmates sent more than 3,200 messages and received some 2,800 a day last month through the [email] system."
Unlike Microsoft Office or Google Mail, the email system that prisons use is as basic as they come. All messages are sent in plain text and no attachments are allowed. Inmates are denied Internet access and can only send email to an approved list of contacts. Messages are often screened for keywords as a security measure. And although Bruce Schneier of the security firm BT Counterpane acknowledges that some inmates may get away with sending coded messages through their email, he also says that the same could be true of phone calls.
While some critics believe that email is a privilege that shouldn't be afforded to inmates, others praise it for allowing more communication with prisoners and their families. They see it as a way for children to sustain a relationship with an imprisoned parent, or as a means for families to communicate urgent news (good or bad), with their loved one.
Those who have loved ones in prisons where email is not an option may not have to wait too long. According to USA Today, "By spring of 2011, all 114 U.S. prisons are expected to have email available for inmates."