Prison mail going digital presents challenge for prison ministry

By October 19, 2021

USA (MNN) — More United States prison systems are digitizing prison mail — scanning pieces of mail sent into the prisons and delivering a digital copy to the prisoner recipient. But is this a good thing?

Not all prison mail is able to be processed digitally, including the Bible study booklets from Crossroads Prison Ministries.

(Image courtesy of Crossroads Prison Ministries)

Normally, Christian mentors with Crossroads correspond with prisoners through mailed Bible study booklets along with a note of encouragement. But the new digital mail scanning process in some prisons won’t allow their booklets to get through.

John Byrne, Curriculum Development Director with Crossroads, says, “We have about 50 facilities that have not let our lessons come in because we send in the lesson booklet. It’s just unauthorized because the mail system cannot handle it.

“In some instances, it will prevent our students from being able to continue participating in Crossroads. That’s an issue. Obviously, we’re going to have to get ahead of that curve and figure out new ways to be able to send lessons in.”

The problem extends beyond Bible study booklets too. It has unintended but severe consequences.

“There are some concerns about wellness and mental health,” Byrne says. “[With] letters from families that are handwritten, you can’t overestimate the importance of holding a letter from one of your loved ones in your hand.

“If I’m in prison, and my four-year-old daughter in preschool made me a birthday card, colored ‘Happy birthday, Daddy,’ [and] sends that into the jail or the prison, now that kind of mail will no longer be allowed to come in.”

(Photo courtesy of Crossroads Prison Ministries)

Byrne says, “Also, what they do is they typically will digitize pictures. So if a family has a family gathering [and] they want to send in a family picture to their loved one in jail or prison, it gets scanned. Typically, the quality of those photos, once they get scanned, is really poor. In fact, a lot of men and women say they can’t even really make out who is in the photo because of the process.”

One of the bigger reasons why prisons are moving towards a digitized mail system is to prevent illegal drugs from getting into the facilities.

However, Byrne says contraband getting into prisons isn’t necessarily a supply problem, but rather a demand problem. And taking away access to physical mail won’t stop that.

“The Marshall Project did a study with the Texas Tribune in Texas. They found that even during COVID when visiting was restricted and they were scanning mail or they were sending out mail to be digitized, there was not a reduction in the amount of drugs coming into the prison.

“What they determined is that the majority of contraband that comes into the prison comes from staff. The correctional officers union, one of the unions in Texas, said that the reason is low pay for staff. There’s a lot of incentive to smuggle things in prison… Even by digitizing the mail, it’s not really going to solve the problem.”

If you want to help in some way, Byrne suggests contacting your local state and county legislators and voicing concerns about digitized mail in the prisons.


(Photo courtesy of Crossroads Prison Ministries)

Also, Byrne asks, “Pray for us. We’ve seen this as an attack from the enemy as well… Right now with COVID, in most states, volunteers have not been able to come into the prisons for well over a year, almost two years in some states. So there’s limited access to religious studies and religious materials without chapel services and volunteers coming in for Bible studies.”

Finally, pray for the men and women behind bars who currently cannot access Crossroads Bible studies.

“The men and women inside that are believers, they’re the ones doing the evangelism. They’re the ones that are providing the witness. They’re the ones that are praying for the needs of the men and women they live with,” Byrne says. “It’s really important to pray for the men and women in prison, especially the believers and the ministry that they’re doing day-to-day.”

To learn more about becoming a Crossroads mentor, click here!






Header photo courtesy of Liam Truong via Unsplash.