To make prisons safer and more secure, the North Carolina prison system is changing the way offenders receive mail.
Beginning Oct. 18, mail to offenders in a state prison must be sent directly to a private company, TextBehind. Prisons officials said contraband smuggling is the main reason to contract with the Maryland-based company.
“The safety and security of our prisons are always foremost,” said Todd Ishee, Commissioner of Prisons. “Reducing the volume of drugs and other contraband entering our prisons will help us protect our staff, the offenders in our custody and the general public. This new system will be faster and safer.”
Reduction in smuggling will occur because TextBehind provides copies of mail to offenders, not the originals.
TextBehind, which processes mail for prisons and jails across the nation, will copy the mailed contents, including cards, photos and artwork. The company will then send the digital files to the prison where the offender is housed. The prison mailroom at that facility will print the pages and deliver them to the offender.
This new system is expected to reduce mail delivery times to next-day delivery, once received by TextBehind.
“Contraband makes a prison unsafe in so many ways,” said Ishee. “You have offenders struggling for control of the contraband trade. You have the risk of overdoses. Anything we can do to cut that off makes our prisons a safer, more secure place to live and work.”
Besides hiding contraband in prison mail, smugglers have learned to make the mail itself into a drug. Paper coated with liquid fentanyl, Suboxone, K2 or other controlled substance is hard to distinguish from regular paper.
“There’s always the possibility that someone — a staff member or an offender — is accidentally exposed to some dangerous substances, whether through breathing it in or its contact with skin,” Ishee said. “Relying on a third-party expert shifts the risk of exposure while processing mail away from prison staff.”
Prison systems across the country have transitioned to digital mail over the past few years, including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wyoming, Colorado and Arkansas. Numerous jails nationwide have done so as well through several digital-mail delivery businesses.
In North Carolina, family and friends of offenders will need to send their letters directly to TextBehind. Details will be posted on the Department of Public Safety website on how to do that.
Alternatively, all legal mail, case files, supporting documents and court documents must be sent to the prison facility directly by an attorney or legal organization. Such mailings must be clearly marked as legal mail and will be inspected by Prisons mail handlers at the facility.
In addition to processing mail sent through the U.S. Postal Service, TextBehind offers an app for smartphone or computer. Those wishing to send offenders letters, greeting cards and uploaded photos and artwork can do so using the app. Downloading the app is free, but fees are charged (starting at 49 cents) to send content.
Since the company earns its revenue through app fees, DPS and North Carolina will pay nothing for the service — not even for copies. TextBehind will provide high-speed printers and printer maintenance to all 55 state prisons.
This digital system has been piloted at four female prison facilities since Feb. 2020, with few complaints and several benefits. In fact, in the year after the female facilities began using TextBehind, disciplinary infractions for substance possession and use by offenders dropped by 50 percent.
Over the same period, the men’s prisons recorded 568 cases of drugs or paraphernalia caught by mailroom staff.