Program allows inmates to stay connected to the outside world

COAST CITIES — Nearly 56,000 e-mails were printed and delivered to inmates in county jails last month, making it the largest number to date since the “e-mail an inmate” program launched in 2007, according to officials.
The e-mails are generally delivered to inmates the same day or the following morning after the messages are sent.
The postal mail that arrives at each of the county’s seven jail facilities is put into a hold box and deputies of the different housing modules distribute that mail between 9 to 11 p.m., according to Sgt. Mark Chapman, who oversees the Jail Information Management System (JIMS) for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
“At the same time they (deputies) do that, they go into the electronic mailbox and print out every single e-mail that came in,” he said.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department was approached several years ago by a company that offered to install and maintain an e-mail system for inmates to receive mail, but Chapman said the county found out they could set up and maintain their own e-mail service through JIMS.
JIMS is an online tracking system that keeps records on all of the inmates. Chapman said some of the records it keeps include incident reports, food delivery and any money sent to inmates.
“Most counties nowadays have a management system,” he said, adding that when he began working in the field in 1991, module logs were created and tracked on paper.
San Diego jails are the only ones in the county that offers the e-mail system as a way of communicating with inmates.
The process involves going online and following the on-screen instructions.
There are restrictions when it comes to communicating with an inmate, including the amount of e-mails each inmate may receive (10 per day), and the e-mail can only be one page in length. Also, it’s requested that each individual who sends e-mails do so once per day in lieu of regular mail.
Chapman said there are two types of e-mails that come in — most are from the community to inmates and the other type are receipts for items purchased for inmates.
In July, there were 50,674 e-mails received from the community to inmates, and 5,171 receipts, he said.
“This year, so far, we average about 1,700 to 1,800 pieces each day,” Chapman said.
He said that the archives date since March 2007, and are saved for investigation purposes.
“Every e-mail that comes in is kept in our archives, and, so far, not purged,” Chapman said.
If an inmate is under investigation for something, the e-mails sent to the inmate are duplicated and also received by the researching officer on the case, he said.
“Anything that might apply to a court case or investigations, we are able to go in and retrieve,” he said.
The benefits of e-mail also include a safety aspect.
“The department prints out the message and there’s no possibility of anything coming in from the outside, such as drugs,” Chapman said.
But he said the e-mail program in the jails has ended up adding to deputies’ workloads and to the county’s budget.
“It’s a budgetary concern at the facility. It does hurt our budget,” he said.
But from the amount of people that utilize the system, it seems to be a
popular communication tool. Chapman said the e-mail system is mainly a convenience to the community.
For more information, visit sdsheriff.net/e-mailaninmate.html

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