Launching Prisoners & Mental Health Patients Online!

Justice Action is proud to introduce iExpress, the world’s first prisoner webpage and interactive email system aimed to empower people in prisons and forensic hospitals and bring them into the digital world, reducing the divide and social exclusion that currently exists. They will now have the opportunity to access an exciting, new channel of self-expression and communication free of charge. Our launch video is here.

We are bringing them out of the cells and onto the net!

Living in the 21st century without access to the Internet disadvantages people in prisons and hospitals by greatly limiting their access to education, training, employment, and their abilities to contact friends and family. Currently, there is a digital divide between prisoners and the general population but iExpress works to close this gap – bringing both the free services of a personal email and webpage together to provide empowerment and a social link of positive communication and expression, reducing the social exclusion of people in prison in an age of prominent internet culture. This divide should be closed to promote effective rehabilitation and resettlement through social inclusion. The first webpage, by Michelle McCreight is now here.

Our research has shown that access to computers and the Internet within cells can significantly assist with prisoner reintegration into society and reduce recidivism. This is highlighted by Juliet Lyon, the Director of the UK’s Prison Reform Trust, who argues that information and communication technology (ICT) is ‘vital for effective rehabilitation and resettlement’. Programs that enable such access empower prisoners by providing the opportunity to gain computer literacy skills and enhancing their understanding of the legal system through access to legal resources and services.

The empowerment of prisoners and consumers by ensuring the time they spend in their cells is productive is the key motivation for the establishment of iExpress. Through iExpress, they will have access to their own webpage, which will give them an opportunity to freely express and re-define themselves. iExpress encourages people to discuss their life, experiences, hobbies, and provide them with the opportunity to upload photos of themselves or any other positive artistic endeavours. A personalised webpage is an ideal platform to showcase any achievements made in prison and will allow prisoners to make a personal statement that addresses their current feelings and attitudes. The expression of such thoughts and feelings will enhance the reliability of prisoners and illustrate that their past does not define who they are. iExpress is an avenue for self-expression where prisoners can define their own identity through words, images and art.

In addition to personalised webpages, we also offer an email service where people in prison and hospitals are assigned their own personal interactive email address that enables them to send and receive messages. Incoming messages will be received at Justice Action, printed and mailed to the prisoner. Outgoing messages will be addressed to Justice Action and then will be scanned, uploaded and sent as an email response. iExpress will be secure, controlled, and will uphold Justice Action’s strict confidentiality standards. The usual censorship procedures employed by prison authorities will apply to letters entering and leaving prisons.

Currently, nowhere else in the world has introduced a progam like iExpress, which gives prisoners their own webpage and access to interactive email free of charge. However, with the increased number of studies that highlight the positive effects of expanding information technology to prisoners, there have been calls to introduce the Internet and grant email access to prisoners, directly in cells. We see iExpress as a measure that is precursive to the introduction of computers operating through secure servers into cells. For futher information regarding this intiative please read our ‘Computers in Cells: Maintaining community ties and reducing recidivism’ report.

International Developments

The UK and the USA are currently working to improve prisoner and mental health patient’s access to information technology. A program was established on the ‘Write a Prisoner’ website in the USA in 2000. On this website, prisoners pay a fee to establish a pen-pal profile that includes personal information which can be viewed by potential pen pals. Pen pals could then correspond with prisoners by email whilst the prisoner could not directly respond. In addition to establishing a personal profile, prisoners can also establish career profiles with information regarding their education and employment history for future employment opportunities. ‘Write a Prisoner’ is also a platform for displaying prisoner artworks and poetry, and allows prisoners to upload blog posts. The success of this website is evidenced by its longevity and its continuing popularity and expansion.

Similarly, already established in the UK in 2006, with great success is the ‘Email a Prisoner’ website consisting of prisoners from 147 prisons across the UK that have given access to an email service. By signing up to the website and paying a small fee of 30 pence per message, individuals are able to send an email to a prisoner that is delivered safely and securely. Outgoing emails are printed inside the relevant prison and included in the daily mail delivery. Although the service is primarily used by the friends and family of prisoners, a growing number of legal professionals, organisations and agencies are benefitting from the website. A similar service exists in the USA through the “Emailing a Prisoner” website that prints outgoing email messages and sends them to the prisoner through the US Postal Service. The US service also allows individuals to receive incoming messages from prisoners, which are received by the website and then scanned and uploaded for online access.

The popularity and success of prisoner email programs in the UK and USA illustrate the need for a program in Australia. iExpress will provide this, launching prisoners and patients online with this new, exciting channel for self-expression and communication.

iExpress is a medium to address the social exclusion experienced by those who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system and the mental health system, and Justice Action wishes for your involvement on this innovative first as we bring justice issues to the forefront of action, so please support, subscribe, spread the word and watch this space!

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