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Prison Mail Policy Updates: Do They Impact Families?

“Congratulations, you’re an approved vendor for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities.” said the letter that was emailed to Flikshop CEO, Marcus Bullock. 

Flikshop Postcards Mail Prison Mosaic Printing DC
At Mosaic Express Printing in DC: Flikshop postcards from friends and loved ones waiting for shipment to facilities across the country.

It was officially announced that Flikshop postcards would be a preferred product that could be sent from family members to their incarcerated loved ones housed in TDCJ. In fact, hundreds of non-profit agencies could also ship their notifications about their services or educational programs to incarcerated people. This would be it…a surefire way to keep families connected very easily, as well as a distinguishable way to help keep facilities safe with mail. Couple this with a mission to help build workforce talent at the Flikshop School of Business and we could begin measuring success of formerly incarcerated people by something other than recidivism rates. We could leverage real community connections to gain data from arrest to post-release success. 

Sylvia Bullock Flikshop Mother Postcards Son Mail Prison
Flikshop Relationship Manager, Sylvia Bullock, calls facilities daily to monitor changing mail policies.

Just a year after this announcement, there would be a shift in the way that certain pieces of mail are being distributed to residents in TDCJ facilities. And while we support several department of corrections leaders that are being intentional about their mission of safety and rehabilitation, Flikshop is committed to notifying our customers about jail and prison rules and policy updates that impact mail. 

By now, most of us have heard of the data that states that ecouragement, and inclusion can help an incarcerated family member feel less left behind, and more involved with the family at home. Receiving mail provides a tangible means of connection, and most of us would have psychological meltdowns if we were stripped from consistent communication with our closest friends. Familiar handwriting, a beloved child smiling in a photo, an anecdote from the neighborhood event…or even a joke in the form of a social media post, they all help remind an us that we are more than our present circumstances. We escape through our text messages and our social media posts. We’re connecting with the people closest to us, and about the things that matter the most to us. 

In fact, this is the same thing that happens every time one of our customers send a Flikshop postcard to their incarcerated loved one. They connect. 

The questions we should ask ourselves: do we support this connection, or do we want more restriction? 

Mail Scanning Prison Policy
Returned mail from prison. Photo credit: /PEN America Jess Abolafia

While all incarcerated people can receive legal mail, more and more federal, state and county facilities are prohibiting physical mail. Most times this means that mail from family members will be scanned or photocopied and delivered to incarcerated residents on a kiosk, tablet device or black & white photocopy.

This digitization of mail is frustrating for most of our currently incarcerated neighbors, and community partners are finding it harder and harder to provide effective reentry services. 

Just as the photos of our community partners and family members hang on our walls in our home, our incarcerated friends enjoy those beautiful photos of their children resting on the side of their bunks…loving faces to remind them of better times, or handwritten letters of encouragement to re-read again and again.  The loneliness of incarceration and separation from family can be isolating and discouraging.

“Physical mail carries great sentimental value for incarcerated people, which translates into a more hopeful experience behind bars. In one incarcerated person’s words, “Under the new policy of digitizing mail [in Florida], [we] are losing the visceral experience of touching a letter or smelling perfume on an envelope.” Taking that away has real, measurable consequences for mental health, behavior, and even recidivism after release. Incarcerated people return to their mail over and over to be reminded of their support networks; scanned mail, on the other hand, is often low-quality or incomplete, lacking the same meaning. Even if contraband occasionally enters prisons through the mail, the practice of scanning all mail senselessly punishes all incarcerated people and their families for a few infractions.”

Prison Mailroom

Many correctional agencies believe that electronic mail circumvents the entry of drugs and contraband into facilities, and signals to our community that this threat is worthy of this major shift in policy. Overdoses and criminal activity are surely reasons to review security protocols, but most experts question if this is the best strategy. Data supports claims that only a tiny percentage of drugs enter prisons through the public mail system, and most mail is being sent to residents using 3rd party digital mail providers. 

“We need to rethink this policy on mail, and the real implications it has on family connectivity,” Flikshop CEO, Marcus Bullock states, “Drug trafficking through mail has to be less than 1% of the success rate of the drugs that are trafficked into facilities, and most families leverage tech tools like Flikshop to send consistent content to their loved ones anyway.”

An October 2022 article in the Riverfront Times reported that data requested by the organization Missouri Prison Reform shows mail scanning has had no effect on the number of drug overdoses in state prisons: In July, August and September 2022, the three months after mail scanning began, the average number of drug overdoses increased from 35 to 39. Similar data was retrieved from a PA DOC study, where 0.07% of incoming mail was compromised by drugs. After implementing mail scanning, that number dropped only one tenth of a percentage, to  0.06%

The Good News

We are excited to let you know that many of the facilities across the country recognize Flikshop as a certified vendor, which means postcards, letters, photos, and Flikbooks are allowed in these facilities.  Our team is in daily contact with various mailroom supervisors to ensure our organization is not only in compliance with mail policy guidelines, but also staying abreast of any policy or procedural changes.

Marcus Bullock Flikshop Photo Packages Mail Postcards
Flikshop CEO Marcus Bullock holds family photos printed from our secure printing facility in MD.

In addition, using the Flikshop app makes it really easy to send mail and ensure your mail reaches your loved one.  Keep in mind that you must use the legal name and ID number on all mail to your loved one, and be sure the complete address is provided for mailing via Flikshop. 

The research is clear: family mail, visitation, phone calls between incarcerated people and their families have positive impacts for everyone--including better mental health, reduced recidivism, and improvements in family and community relations. Depite any shifting mail trends, or changes in policy, one crucial principle remains the same: Flikshop prioritizes families, and we remain committed to our mission to keep families connected during seasons of separation  

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