Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is coming under fire again from Democratic lawmakers, as well as from the American Postal Workers Union, who are calling for President Joe Biden to pave the way for DeJoy’s removal after the Trump-appointee announced higher mailing fees and logistical changes that could further slow down mail. The US Postal Service (USPS) has already suffered a more than 50% drop in on-time arrivals for first-class mail deliveries, according to the service’s own data.
Nevertheless, thanks to the ubiquitous presence of high-speed internet, the personal communications of most Americans don’t seem to be fundamentally affected by the problems at USPS. Excluding the mail-in-ballots controversy leading up to the 2020 presidential election, the majority of the country remains little more than a curious spectator in what seems to be the inevitable demise of legacy long-distance message-carrying methods in the midst of a blossoming technological wonderland.
But, at least one key American demographic could well prove to be the canary in the coal mine in terms of the implications of a fully digitized mail system. The 2.3 million people currently incarcerated in America’s prison systems could be on the verge of altogether losing the privilege of receiving physical mail from friends and family if the Biden administration does nothing to stop the growing trend of handing over prison mail operations to companies like Smart Communications and its “Postal Mail Elimination” services.
A long-running problem
Promising to do away with the “longest running problems and security loopholes” of America’s prison mail systems, the privately-held corporation offers a ‘free’ service called MailGuard to state corrections facilities and county jails across the country.
MailGuard “filters” physical mail sent to inmates and delivers electronic versions to the prisoners via their proprietary SmartTablet or SmartKiosk platforms, according to Smart Communications’s website.
Among the most troubling issues surrounding such technologies is the risk they pose to prisoners’ Sixth Amendment right to carry on confidential communications with their legal counsel. In addition, the fees associated with the use of these services for inmates can constitute a violation of federal laws, which permit prisoners to send legal correspondence “regardless of their ability to pay for postage.”
Both DeJoy’s machinations at the USPS and the rise of private corporations offering to parse and deliver mail to prisoners via tablets and other costly hardware undermine the critical role physical mail plays in the life of the inmate population.