For incarcerated people, handwritten letters can be a lifeline—but prisons and jails are restricting them. Prisons are increasingly banning physical mail.
These may seem like small things, but anyone with a personal connection to the prison system knows they’re not. Physical correspondence has become more urgent for incarcerated people and their family members during the pandemic, as many facilities have suspended or restricted visitation. For lots of families affected by the criminal justice system, letter writing is the most accessible form of maintaining contact, due to the often exorbitant fees charged by the private companies that operate prison phone service, video calls, and electronic messaging systems.
Personal testimonies and research alike demonstrate that regular correspondence with the outside world is crucial to an incarcerated person’s mental health while inside prison as well as their ability to successfully reintegrate upon release. Thus, it’s doubly alarming that more facilities are moving toward restricting traditional physical correspondence in favor of scanning and printing or electronically delivering letters. The Florida Department of Corrections, for example, is considering adopting a policy that would digitize incoming (nonlegal) mail, forcing incarcerated people pay for printouts or to view their correspondence on a tablet or kiosk operated by the private company JPay, the Gainesville Sun recently reported.