Texting is part of our everyday life in the free world. It’s become so common that it’s almost weird to get a phone call. Much less a voicemail.
But how does it work when you are arrested and sentenced to some time behind bars? Do inmates have cell phones? Can you text in prison?
In today’s blog post, I will cover the following topics:
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that when you are sentenced to prison, you have to leave your cell phone at home. Cell phones and all other tech gadgets from the free world are an absolute no-no when you’re behind bars. Even the prison staff is prohibited from bringing gadgets into areas that prisoners have access to.
Because cell phones aren’t allowed in prison, you can’t text when you’re an inmate. Instead, communication is very much like it was in high school in the early 1990s – it’s all done on paper.
In prison, communication happens between inmates and staff via the kite method. What’s a kite, you ask? A kite is basically a handwritten note on a sheet of paper that is folded up and dropped into the appropriate “kite” box, or inter-campus mailbox.
Essentially, inmates pass notes to communicate with staff, just like we used to did in school way back in the day. The same thing goes for inmate communication. If there is an inmate in camp that you don’t see regularly for whatever reason, you communicate via kites that are passed among other trusted inmates until it gets to the person it was intended for.
Of course, just because something is illegal doesn’t mean all inmates follow the rules. Cell phones are actually one of the most common things smuggled into a prison. Either by staff or by visitors. Some inmates do manage to get their hands on cell phones, so they can conduct business behind bars and stay in contact with their people without the communication being monitored.
If you ever hear of a prison inmate using a cell phone to call, text, or post on social media, that’s a prohibited activity. That inmate would get in major trouble if they were ever caught.
Inmates in some prisons can use tech legally thanks to new inmate tablets. More and more prisons are introducing tablets for inmate use. They can do things like communicate with staff (to get rid of the kite system) and order canteen items. These tablets can also be used for taking educational classes, as well as sending/receiving emails. In some facilities, inmates can use them to download music, movies, and games.
I should point out, though, that just because they can be used for email and media downloads, these tablets are not connected to the internet. Prisons that use inmate tablets have a special intranet system that communicates with these devices.
Most inmates in prison do have access to phones on a daily basis, unless they are in a supermax facility or in administrative segregation. These phones are old-fashioned landline phones that are attached to the wall inside of a cellblock.
Where I was incarcerated we had three phones available per wing, and there were more than 100 women housed in each wing. Sometimes, the phone lines were hours long. They were often the source of fights if people tried to jump the line.
All prison phone calls are monitored and recorded. Most facilities have a time limit per call of around 15 to 20 minutes.
Inmates are not allowed to receive incoming calls, but they can make outgoing calls to people on their approved phone list. To receive calls from an inmate, you have to have a prepaid phone account, or you can send money to an inmate, and they can buy phone time to call you. The price for phone calls does vary. As a rule, they cost around two to five cents per minute.
To send someone a text message the old fashioned way, you can send an inmate a letter via snail mail. Like phone calls, all inmate mail is monitored. Each facility has specific mail rules about how many pictures you can send, and whether or not you’re allowed to send envelopes and stamps. Some prisons allow you to send money in the mail to an inmate, but most prisons don’t do that anymore.
One thing that is universal is that contraband is not allowed. You can’t even send things like stickers or anything with glitter. No staples, tape, or paper clips. Whenever you send an inmate mail, it’s best to keep it to a few pages of notebook or typing paper and a few pictures (must be appropriate, no nudity).
Many prisons also have the option of sending an inmate email and videograms through a company like JPAY or Access Corrections. If you are wanting to find out the mail rules at the facility your loved one is incarcerated in, just click on the facility name here on Prison Insight and the listing will tell you all about the snail mail rules. There’s also info about email, if it is available at the specific facility.
Have you received an email from an inmate using a tablet? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: JPAY Tablets https://www.jpay.com/PMusic.aspx JPAY Video Connect https://www.jpay.com/pvideovisit.aspx JPAY Email https://www.jpay.com/PEMessages.aspx US prisons now offer inmates 'electronic messaging,' but it's not really e-mail https://www.csmonitor.com/Technology/2016/0122/US-prisons-now-offer-inmates-electronic-messaging-but-it-s-not-really-e-mail
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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