Service at Arkansas jail converts postal mail to email

Benton County targets contraband

Posted: February 20, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

An inmate uses an email kiosk Friday at the Benton County jail in Bentonville.

BENTONVILLE -- Benton County jail inmates are receiving their mail electronically, which has cut down one way drugs or any contraband gets into the facility.

"People would be surprised by what some people try to get in the jail through the mail," said Sgt. Shannon Jenkins, spokesman for the Benton County sheriff's office.

The jail is using, which allows inmates to communicate with family and friends who open an account with the service, Jenkins said.

Jenkins said the service began Jan. 1.

The inmates no longer receive postal mail from family and friends at the jail. Each inmate has an account, and family members or friends can set up their own accounts free of charge, Jenkins said.

Smart Communications runs MailGuard in conjunction with SmartJailMail's messaging system, according to Correctional News, a publication dedicated to jail construction, maintenance and operations.

MailGuard receives postal mail for inmates at a local post office, and the inmates' mail is scanned into electronic documents and sent to their SmartJailMail accounts, according to Correctional News.

The service lets inmates read their messages on tablets or at kiosks, but Jenkins said inmates in the Benton County jail can only view their mail at kiosks because inmates don't have tablets.

There are 45 kiosks in the jail. As of Friday afternoon there were 575 inmates in the jail.

Jenkins said there's no cost to the jail.

Inmates, along with their family and friends, pay 50 cents per message, the same cost as a first-class postage stamp, Jenkins said. It cost family members and friends of inmates $1 to send a photograph to an inmate.

Jenkins said each message is only charged once. For example, if a family member pays to send a message, the inmate isn't charged 50 cents for opening it. It's the same when an inmate pays the 50 cents to send a message -- the person who receives it doesn't have to pay to open the message.

Inmates don't have access to print photographs, Jenkins said.

Jenkins said inmates can send as many messages as they want as long as they have money in their accounts. Inmates can send messages, but not photographs.

Correctional News reported in October that SmartJailMail was the first electronic messaging system used in a county jail.

"MailGuard finally eliminates a major problem and major security loophole that every correctional agency has struggled with since the beginning of incarceration: contraband, labor and secret communication from inmate postal mail," Smart Communications CEO Jon Logan told Correctional News.

Inmates can still mail letters, but many prefer email because they can receive a response more rapidly than waiting days for traditional mail, Jenkins said.

Lt. Cody Burk of the Pulaski County sheriff's office said they're interested in the technology and have looked at several vendors, but there are no plans to change the jail's mail system. Burk said they have a clerk who opens and checks the mail for contraband and the mail is then given to inmates.

Inmates in the Washington County jail receive mail through the postal service, but that may change.

Maj. Randall Denzer with the Washington County sheriff's office said they are looking at two systems, and he expects a decision soon.

The biggest reason for the change is to prevent drugs from getting into the jail, according to Denzer.

"They are always putting something in the mail," he said. "Second, we are a mini post office. Six hundred and 50 detainees is like a small city."

Denzer said using one of the services could free help for other tasks.

Metro on 02/20/2018