The BOP inmate email system is a closed system meaning that the inmates are not connected to the internet. The Corrlinks system is really nothing more than an electronic message board. We type an email and it gets posted to the BOP message board. The inmates must buy Corrlinks credits to be able to send email.
An email recipient must accept the inmate’s invitation to communicate by email. The recipient can revoke that permission at any time. Furthermore, the BOP has the right to review and reject email coming and going. The BOP has greater ability to monitor inmate communication than they do with U.S. mail. The recipient logs on to the message board to send and receive inmate emails on their computers.
Access to email was denied to ALL white-collar inmates by FPC Butner when it was initially installed. The camp administrator made some lame excuse about the white-collar guys’ experience with computers. This is as if the drug dealers and gun runners didn’t know how to use the computer! There was enough inmate backlash and complaints that FPC Butner backed down.
Lately, they have denied email access on a case by case basis. I know one guy who was never allowed email access, and another that recently had his email access taken away. Both guys were involved in Ponzi schemes, and the camp administrator alleged that their email use in their crime was enough to deny them any email use in the camp. I believe that these denials were arbitrary and served no institutional purpose.
I reviewed the BOP policy regarding the use of inmate email. The policy assumes some right of the BOP to restrict certain inmates from access to email. These would include online child pornographers and those with specialized computer skills, for example. It doesn’t seem to allow for unlimited discretion of prison officials to allow or disallow email access. I would take the position that the unreasonable and arbitrary restriction of email use is just another denial of 1st Amendment right to free speech.
There is a case called Procunier v. Martinez that was decided by the Supreme Court in 1974. Justice Powell wrote the opinion (I believe unanimous) for the court. In short, the case involved a state inmate that was writing his wife informative and sometimes derogatory information regarding his incarceration. The state prison officials were censoring his letters deleting arbitrarily all information that was derogatory in their opinion. He sued alleging violation of his 1st Amendment rights.
The lower courts were hesitant about interfering with prison administration so these courts generally sided with the prison. The case made it to the Supreme Court. Interesting, the Court approached the case from a different perspective. They held for the prisoner stating that the censoring was a violation of HIS WIFE’S 1st amendment right to free speech. The wife has a 1st Amendment right to know about her husband’s health and condition of incarceration without being censored. In fact, the Court stated that the information didn’t even need to be true.
Technology has changed a lot since the 1974 Martinez decision. Email is the U.S. mail of yesterday, but significantly faster. The existence of email as an alternative means of exercising one’s constitutional rights should remain open to prisoners. Accordingly, email access is not a privilege at all but a right subject to reasonable restrictions with a valid and rational connection to the interest of maintaining penal security.