The PA Department of Corrections (PA DOC) instituted a statewide lock down of all state correctional facilities on August 29,2018, in response to reports of multiple staff members being sickened by “unknown substances” in the previous few weeks. These drugs have entered the prison system through seven points of entry, namely: mail, legal mail, visits, staff, books/publications, drones, and inmates returning after release.
In order to prevent drugs from entering through the mail system, new procedures and regulations have been implemented for sending personal mail to PA inmates. Effective immediately, all incoming public mail will be processed through an offsite third-party vendor called Smart Communications (website: https://smartcommunications.us/2017/14/about-us ) through a program called MailGuard.
The MailGuard program provides an off-site virtual mailroom which will receive all PA inmate personal mail (non-legal mail), which will then be scanned into a searchable electronic document, which is then transmitted electronically to the correctional facility, where it will be printed and delivered to the inmate by hand. The new procedure covers all regular incoming correspondence between inmates, families and friends (legal mail will be sent directly to the correctional facility and processed under different procedures)
Once the personal mail is scanned, the digital version of the mail becomes part of a permanent, searchable database that is organized and sorted by inmate, and it is then transmitted to the facility staff who can approve, deny, or forward mail to another department. Approved mail is then printed and delivered to the inmates.
During the initial three months of implementation of MailGuard, inmates will receive their mail within five days of its reception at the central processing hub. Thereafter, inmates will receive their mail within 24 hours of its receipt in their Florida facility.
All personal mail must be addressed as shown in the following example:
Joe Inmate/ AB1234
PO Box 33028
St. Petersburg, FL 33733
Each line must contain the required information as shown in the example; the 2nd line must have the inmate name and his/her DOC #, and the 3rd line must indicate the name of the State Correctional Institute (SCI). The first line and the last two lines must contain the exact address information shown in the example for the MailGuard program, regardless of the particular facility in which the inmate resides.
All previous rules remain in place with regard to sending mail…must have a return address top left corner of envelope, must use plain white envelope, no metal, no foil, no money, no paper clips, etc.
Unfortunately, the new rules also prevent the sending of books and magazines to inmates. They will be able to order some e-books to download onto their tablets, and they may also purchase books by request. The DOC will order the book for the inmate once the inmate submits a cash slip for the item, and it will be shipped directly to the inmate. Third parties, such as families and friends, cannot purchase the books from publishers to be sent to inmates under these new rules. They can deposit money on an inmates account that the inmate would then use to purchase books or magazine subscriptions.
All future magazine and newspaper subscriptions will be purchased through the DOC. The inmate will submit a request and a cash slip. The DOC will purchase subscriptions in bulk and have magazines shipped in bulk to the SCI to deliver to inmates who purchased the items. Existing subscriptions will be allowed until they expire–all new subscriptions must be placed under the new policy.
For additional information, including the rules covering the handling of legal mail, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections website: https://www.cor.pa.gov There you will find detailed information regarding the handling of “Legal Mail” and other related information in their “Frequently Asked Questions” pages.