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System allows federal prisoners to send e-mail
[September 06, 2011]

System allows federal prisoners to send e-mail


Sep 06, 2011 (Richmond Times-Dispatch - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- On Aug. 17, Eric Skys, a scam artist, sent a request across the country to the newsroom of the Richmond Times-Dispatch asking to exchange electronic messages.



Skys, 28, is a federal prison inmate in Lompoc, Calif., and one of more than 123,000 federal prisoners in 116 correctional facilities who now have access to an email system of sorts -- but not the Internet.

"It's not truly an email system," explained Chris Burke, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Instead, inmates type out messages -- hundreds of thousands a day -- on keyboards that are not connected to Internet.


At least two state prison systems have similar systems, and the Virginia Department of Corrections is also looking into it.

For inmates and families, the system offers communication that is quicker than mail and less expensive than phone calls. For prisons, it requires less staff time than paper mail and improved security.

In federal prisons before the messages are transmitted to the outside world (or one gets from the outside world into the prison), they are screened by the company operating the service and by the Bureau of Prisons.

Messages can be sent only to recipients who agree to receive them. Inmates pay for the messages (at a rate of 5 cents per minute spent on the keyboard writing them) and the system costs nothing to taxpayers.

Burke said inmates can correspond with family members and others who agree to participate and who have been approved by prison officials. "One of the biggest things we're concerned about is inmates contacting victims," Burke said.

Inmate phone calls have long been monitored. "This makes it much, much easier to monitor what is said and to do keyword searches to kind of get the pulse of what is going on in the institution," Burke said.

It also cuts down on the amount of mail entering the prisons, which saves staff time that would otherwise be spent searching for contraband, he said.

The program started as a pilot in several federal prisons in 2005 and is now in all of them, Burke said. Sending and receiving the emails is a privilege, not a right, and inmates must have good institutional records to participate.

Atul Gupta is CEO of the Advance Technologies Group, which operates the federal inmate email system through its Web site, www.CorrLinks.com.

He says the company also handles emails for state prisoners in Oklahoma and Iowa and has been awarded the contract for Minnesota.

"We do over 400,000 messages a day," Gupta said. He said in all cases the messages are sent through the CorrLinks Web site. "We then go through a whole bunch of processes," including security and content checks, he said.

"Only if it passes all the checks -- and I mean all the checks -- will it be delivered. Otherwise, it gets put into a queue for a review by an officer," he said.

Gupta referred questions about the amount of money inmates are spending to use the system to the Bureau of Prisons.

Burke referred questions on how much Gupta's company is being paid to the U.S. Treasury Department which handles the contract. However, as of Friday, treasury officials were unable to say.

Larry Traylor, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections, said there is no electronic message system for Virginia inmates, but officials are looking into the possibility.

"Our main concern is security and how such a system would operate," Traylor said. "We are also concerned about costs and how taxpayers and inmate family members would be affected," said Traylor.

In his email to an editor at The Times-Dispatch, Skys said, "I had to plead guilty in 2009, for various reasons." Court records show he was sentenced to 10 years and 10 months in prison for securities-, wire- and bank-fraud convictions. His sentence is currently under review in federal court in New York.

In papers filed this month, the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York says, among other things, that Skys attempted to borrow $83 million from Citibank by pledging non-existent Sprint stock as collateral.

[email protected] (804) 649-6340 ___ (c)2011 the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Va.) Visit the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Va.) at www.timesdispatch.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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