Inmates confined within the Federal Bureau of Prisons have access to the Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer System (TRULINCS), a computer system which, among other central functions, allows inmates to email with approved contacts in the community. While theTRULINCS Public Messaging system is fairly straight-forward to operate from the computer kiosks that inmates have access to in their housing units, the same can’t be said for community member contacts, who must use the interface to email incarcerated contacts. In an effort to resolve some of the confusion experienced by prisoners’ families and friends when attempting to email with them, this article presents the central components of the external interface and, as such, acts as a primer to its usage. Not Exactly Email

Those outside of prison are used to traditional email providers like Gmail, which allows users to send electronic messages (i.e., emails) directly to a recipient’s email address. This is not how works, and it is where much confusion resides as far as new users are concerned.

When an inmate inputs a community member’s email address into the TRULINCS system, a system-generated email is sent to the email address with instructions on how to create a account. Once this free account has been created/activated, users must log into their account each and every time to email with a federal inmate. This is the case when sending emails to inmates and when receiving emails from inmates. Messages will not be sent to a user’s personal email inbox. In this regard, the system is more like a personal electronic message board, not traditional email.

Setting Email Alerts

While messages from inmates will not be delivered to a personal email account (they are only delivered to a personal account inbox at the website itself), there is a way to set email alerts. These alerts trigger an automated email to a personal email account alerting a user to a new message from an incarcerated correspondent. This way they are notified and can login to to read the new message.

To learn how to set email alerts, go to the Frequently Asked Questions page. This FAQ page explains how many such components work.

System Limitations: Characters, style, and speed

Unlike traditional email there are several system limitations and quirks. Each email is limited to 13,000 characters (around 2,000 words). Letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and even spaces count against the character limit. As a user types, a character countdown indicator will be visible at the top-right of your screen. There is no limit to the number of emails that can be sent in any particular day or period of time. As such, if a user needs more space, they can simply send additional emails.

There are also style restrictions. All emails are limited to plain, black text. Attachments, images, and other media types are not permitted. If such message enhancements are included, they will be stripped prior to delivery to the inmate.

The final true system limitation is the speed of message delivery. Due to staff monitoring, messages to an inmate take around an hour to be delivered. Messages from an inmate to an outside contact take around 20 minutes to be delivered to an outside contact’s inbox.

Cost: Free for Outside Contacts, Not for Inmates

Several different departments of corrections contract with to provide email services to their inmates. Depending on the department of correction and contract in question, community users might be charged for use. This is not the case with the contract that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has in place. This contract stipulates that federal inmates will be charged 5 cents per minute and community members will not incur a cost to use the service. Inmates are only charged when they are inside the TRULINCS Public Messaging folio, not when their outside contacts read or draft messages, or when the inmate is using other TRULINCS functions.

Due to the cost burden of use placed upon the inmate, it is best to send the incarcerated correspondent between $15 and $30 per month so that they will have enough money to use the TRULINCS Public Messaging service at their convenience.

Tip of the Trade: Copy and Paste

Most people who use have only bad things to say. The spell check function is atrocious. The system limitations are short-sighted. And the email alert function doesn’t always work. All of this is true, and much, much more.

While nothing can be done about the internal functioning issues, outside users can use external programs to make life easier when using to communicate with a loved one or friend incarcerated within the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Two such programs/functions are Microsoft Word and copy & paste. Many experienced users prefer to type their messages in Word, then copy and paste the message into the email itself. The same function can be used when sending text from news sites or other locations online. This can save a lot of time and aggravation.

Originally posted on Prison Law Blog