A personal firm scans all mail despatched to North Carolina prisons, digitizes it and donates the incarcerated copies. Is it an issue?
Those that write to family members in North Carolina prisons ought to ship their letters to not one of many greater than 50 prisons the place their member of the family is locked up, however to a put up workplace field in Maryland, the place their envelope is opened. and scanned by a stranger in entrance of a replica is delivered to their member of the family at a North Carolina facility.
That is due to a change final yr permitting non-public enterprise Textbehind scan and digitize all mail despatched to incarcerated individuals.
Calling TextBehind “safer, quicker, and cheaper,” the North Carolina Division of Public Security website says the company has moved from in-house mail processing to counting on non-public enterprise “to scale back the quantity of medication and different contraband coming into prisons.”
Information offered to Coverage Watch means that the service could also be at the very least partly chargeable for lowering substance use behind bars.
Within the jail system as a complete, 7,573 offenses had been dedicated for substance abuse in Financial year 2019-2020; there have been 5,649 in fiscal yr 2021-22, a 25% lower from final yr earlier than TextBehind was carried out throughout the jail system.
That stated, there have been 4 overdose deaths in state prisons in 2019, in accordance with figures offered to Coverage Watch, and 5 in 2021, the yr TextBehind was carried out systemwide.
“The state jail system works onerous to maintain medication out of our amenities. It is a fixed battle, fought day by day,” Brad Deen, communications officer on the Division of Public Security, stated in an electronic mail, praising the follow of scanning mail. “As a result of authentic content material by no means enters the jail, we’re assured that the introduction of medication into North Carolina prisons by way of normal offender mail has been just about eradicated. We proceed to work on prohibiting contraband by way of different routes, whether or not smuggled in by employees or guests, thrown over the fence, and so forth.
A report printed by the Jail Coverage Initiative earlier this month, nevertheless, argues that there are collateral penalties to the digitization of mail, together with hurt to inmates, the prioritization of revenue over the welfare of detainees and finally the failure to make prisons safer.
“This follow of mail scanning, performed on the jail itself or off-site utilizing a third-party supplier, removes the privateness and sentimentality of mail, which is usually the most affordable and least expensive. more used type of communication between incarcerated individuals and their family members,” Leah Wang writes within the report.
Wang, a analysis analyst on the Jail Coverage Initiative, surveyed corrections web sites throughout the nation. North Carolina is o
ne of at the very least 14 states wherein jail programs are changing bodily mail with scanned copies.
No less than seven states, together with North Carolina, use non-public firms for digitization. West Virginia and Arkansas have had mail scanning the longest, since 2017, however 4 states have adopted the follow this yr — together with 4 different states in 2021 — indicating an upward pattern.
TextBehind processes mail despatched to ladies incarcerated in North Carolina prisons for ladies since February 2020, and for its males incarcerated since October 2021.
Mail despatched to individuals incarcerated in North Carolina prisons is first despatched to a put up workplace field in Phoenix, Maryland, the place it’s scanned. Digital copies are then despatched to the inmate’s jail, the place the mailroom prints the authorised pages and delivers them.
“Preserving suspicious mail out of jail, whereas offering the content material, ought to scale back contraband smuggling into prisons,” reads the Division of Public Safety’s web site. “The result’s a safer and safer jail surroundings, lowering drug use and the chance of overdose. Violence amongst offenders preventing for the contraband commerce can also be anticipated to lower.
Deen stated using TextBehind is an element of a bigger set of insurance policies in recent times to crack down on drug use behind bars. These insurance policies embody tightening entry and exit screening processes for guests and employees and putting in movement detectors in some prisons to forestall strangers from delivering medication by throwing them over the fence.
“Prisons have zero tolerance for the introduction of contraband into any jail from any supply,” Deen stated, together with employees. “The place doable, we assist the prosecution of these accountable.”
Benefiting from detainees and their households
One of many issues Wang finds with digitizing the mail is that it prioritizes revenue over the well-being of these incarcerated. Personal firms usually supply “bundled” providers to jail programs, equivalent to telephone calls and tablets – TextBehind additionally provides e-mail and youngsters’s e-drawings – encouraging inmates to make use of different technique of communication that could be dearer.
“Mail digitization pushes incarcerated individuals to make use of different paid communication providers offered by firms: in comparison with mail that’s delayed on account of scanning procedures or poorly scanned, incarcerated individuals and their family members usually miss out title to electronic mail (which requires the acquisition of digital stamps), telephone calls, or video calls,” Wang writes.
The DPS web site says mail despatched by way of the corporate’s app is processed quicker than if despatched by way of the US Postal Service. Something despatched by way of the app is forwarded by TextBehind to the jail for supply. This app is free, nevertheless it prices at the very least 49 cents — “lower than a stamp,” the DPS web site reads — to ship something. The corporate additionally lists a number of fee choices for sending to its website.
“NCDPS (and taxpayers) will not pay for something, not even onerous copies. TextBehind gives printers and printer upkeep to all 55 prisons,” the DPS web site reads.
Unique letters despatched to the Maryland PO Field are shredded inside 30 calendar days. Members of the family can request that their letter be returned, nevertheless it prices $2.50.
Drug prohibition trumps human contact
The usage of TextBehind by the North Carolina jail system signifies that inmates don’t get their fingers on letters touched by family members. Art work despatched in by their kids is scanned by strangers, copied after which given to the incarcerated father or mother, a replica of a drawing lovingly returned to a father or mom separated by miles, concrete and barbed wire.
The DPS web site acknowledges this in a listing of ceaselessly requested questions: “Why do you should make copies? A duplicate of a map or a bit of youngsters’s artwork isn’t the identical factor. »
The division stated utilizing TextBehind protects individuals.
Jail drug sellers usually coat the paper with liquid types of fentanyl, Suboxone, K2, LSD and different lethal medication,” the web site reads. “Mailroom employees could be by chance uncovered to the medication by touching the paper or respiratory the fumes.”
The concept that touching fentanyl can result in an overdose is a persistent narrative in the law enforcement community. Additionally it is commonly challenged by public well being specialists, one in all whom told the Washington Post that the second-hand exhibit is “full nonsense”.
Requested to make clear how usually this occurs in North Carolina prisons, Deen stated the DPS had no studies that mailroom employees had contact publicity to medication or fumes. .
“We practice our mailroom employees in correct precautions for dealing with mail and avoiding publicity to hazardous supplies,” he stated.
Wang’s report argues that mail filtering would not even do what it is purported to do: make prisons safer. Officers in Pennsylvania stated 0.7% of incoming mail was contaminated with medication in 2018, simply earlier than it began utilizing mail scanning. Practically a yr after the beginning of mail scanning, 0.6% of mail was tainted. Overdoses in Missouriin the meantime, elevated within the first three months after the jail system started digitizing mail.
Furthermore, safety measures equivalent to scanning mail or banning in-person visits ignore the truth that jail employees are a serious supply of contraband in prisons, Wang argues based mostly on a investigation from 2018.
Deen stated the DPS’s zero-tolerance coverage for anybody making an attempt to smuggle in applies to jail staff.
“We empower the employees. We contact legislation enforcement for prison investigations if employees are found smuggling medication or suspected of smuggling medication into a jail,” he stated.
Maybe essentially the most severe impact of digitizing mail is intangible, Wang writes. The mail has nice sentimental worth for these in jail, providing hope to those that have been minimize off from the surface world for years. Prisoners usually verify their mail all through their incarceration; scanned mail is usually incomplete or of poor qualityusually diminishing its significance.
Ryan M. Moser, an incarcerated man in Florida, wrote a play for Truth final month after the state Division of Corrections banned inmates from receiving bodily mail. Moser called the letters his “lifeline to the surface world – and now let’s go”.
Florida’s almost year-old coverage requires incarcerated individuals to verify their mail on tablets or at communal kiosks. Moser recalled the consolation he felt when he held a 3×5 picture of his not too long ago deceased father, memorizing his options earlier than placing it in his picture album.
“We cherish these reminiscences behind bars as a result of we do not have a lot else,” he wrote.
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