Being separated from someone you love because he or she is incarcerated is difficult. Because all calls from prisons and jails are recorded, you are hesitant to talk about anything personal or intimate on the phone. Instead, you turn to letters. Pouring your heart out in a letter feels almost like the inmate is sitting right there with you. It is easy to forget that the letter will pass through several hands before it is received. It is important to remember there is no right to privacy in a penal institution. Guards nationwide can and do read incoming letters for entertainment. In addition to randomly choosing which letters to read for fun, they also have a list of inmates for which all correspondence is copied and put in a file before the letter is sent to the inmate. Inmate mail may be flagged for scrutiny for these reasons.
Gang affiliation: If the inmate is registered in the system as a gang member, or is affiliated with a gang, his or her mail might be copied and saved. Gangs in prisons or jails communicate through internal kites and external letters, therefore, your loved one’s mail attracts the interest of law enforcement gang units.
Terrorist threat: Following 9/11, prison and jail administrators stepped up the effort to detect any threat of terrorism. If your inmate is suspected of being friendly with any known terrorist groups or has made terrorist comments while incarcerated, his or her mail is likely being copied and filed.
Planning of a Crime: Anytime the guards get wind that your loved one might be involved with the plotting of a crime, his or her mail will be confiscated for reading before it goes to mail call. It doesn’t mean a crime has been actually planned. All it takes is a disgruntled guard or fellow inmate to claim your loved has been talking about a crime in the planning stages, and it is enough to get on the mail watch list.
Gathering Evidence: Many inmates have been harmed in court by their own mail. Friends and well-meaning family members who write to inmates that have not yet been to trial can hurt the defense with what they say in a letter. It is best not to ever talk about cases in a letter, other than to offer support and encouragement.
Escape Risks: Inmates escape and it makes the institution look bad, therefore, anytime it is suspected that your inmate is planning to escape or to help someone else escape, his or her letters will be read word-for-word for awhile.
Always remember, a bored guard might read your letters. Be especially conscious of what you are writing.