Offenders in Missouri prisons will no longer touch the personal mail they are sent.
The Missouri Department of Corrections announced Tuesday it would no longer accept personal postal mail at correctional facilities beginning July 1. Personal mail for offenders will be sent to a post office box in Florida to be scanned and accessed by its intended recipient via media player tablets.
"We're hoping this will help to cut down on drugs and other contraband from getting into facilities," said Karen Pojmann, communications director for the Department of Corrections. "But it also helps to alleviate the strain on staff."
The department has battled a statewide staffing shortage for months, and Pojmann said there are not enough employees to sort through mail and search for contraband. By contracting with a company to process the mail, she said the department is offloading a time-consuming process for staff.
Pojmann said issues with drugs or contraband hidden in mail are "pretty prevalent" in Missouri prisons.
"It happens pretty often that we find drugs," she said. "It can be hidden under the stamp on the envelope, it can be tucked into the fold of an envelope, even actually soaked into the paper, which is hard to detect."
The Department of Corrections selected Securus, the same company that provides its phone, email and internal monetary services with JPAY, to operate the digital mail center.
Pojmann said the agreement hasn't been finalized in the department's contract with the company and is still being worked on.
The department will forward mail sent to prisons to the Florida post office box between June 15 and July 1. However, after the beginning of July, mail sent to prisons will be returned to the sender.
To send mail to an offender, letters should be addressed:
Offender Name and DOC ID Number
C/O Digital Mail Center-Missouri DOC
P.O. Box 25678
Tampa, FL 33622-5678
In addition to letters, the department is permitting postcards, pictures, and drawings to be scanned and sent to offender tablets. The mail must be easy to scan and can't contain more than 10 items per envelope. Scanned mail is held for 45 days before it is disposed of, but the mail can be returned to the sender if they include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Pojmann said she doesn't know how long processing letters at the new digital mail center will take because the change hasn't been implemented, but she doesn't expect the Florida address to pose any challenges to the mail process.
She said the digital mail center could allow for more efficient mail delivery to offenders transferring between facilities as the mail no longer has to be forwarded and delayed.
"We'll have to see how everything rolls out," Pojmann said.
The new digital processing system only applies to personal mail.
Legal mail, such as correspondence between an offender and an attorney, is confidential so the department can't monitor or digitally scan it. Mail from other agencies, certified mail pre-approved by the offender's case manager, visitor applications and publications will also still be sent directly to offenders.
Offenders normally have access to a state-issued media player tablet, which can be used to read and store mail, make phone calls and take online courses through Ashland University. The tablets can also be used to send and receive email, Pojmann noted.
Letters and correspondence sent through tablets are still monitored by the department, she said.
However, sometimes the tablet is broken or access to a tablet is restricted because the offender is in disciplinary segregation, Pojmann said, in which case the prison will print the mail and deliver it to the offender by hand.