FAQ - New Procedures
Please note: There was a lot of confusion during and after the recent policy changes, but the DOC
never banned books and it
never banned inmate mail.
If you have questions regarding mailing letters, books or other items, please email: RA-CRMAILPROCEDURES@pa.gov
Why was the DOC on a statewide lockdown?
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel announced the immediate lockdown of all state correctional institutions on August 29, 2018, because of reports of multiple staff members being sickened by unknown substances over the past few weeks. The DOC is enacting new policies to protect staff, inmates, volunteers and everyone who visit all DOC facilities. You can view staff and inmate exposure incidents on the
Drug Elimination Efforts page.
How are these dangerous, unknown substances getting into facilities?
There are seven points of entry for contraband to enter the facility: mail, legal mail, visits, staff, books/publications, drones and inmates returning to the DOC after having been released. It's speculated that the majority of contraband enters the facilities through the mail.
What is the DOC doing to stop unknown substances and contraband from entering its facilities through incoming mail?
The DOC is implementing several immediate policy and program changes in order to keep staff and inmates safe from the exposure of these dangerous substances. Effective immediately all incoming public mail will be processed through an offsite third party vendor called Smart Communications.
How will Smart Communications stop contraband from entering facilities through the mail?
Smart Communications offers a program called MailGuard which provides an off-site virtual mailroom that receives non-legal inmate postal mail on behalf of the correctional agency. That mail is then processed into a searchable electronic document which is then transmitted electronically to the correctional facility where it will be printed and delivered to the inmate by hand. MailGuard creates a 100% contraband elimination for all non-legal mail.
How will the new mail system work?
non-legal mail must be sent to the following address:
Smart Communications/PA DOC
Inmate Name/Inmate Number
PO Box 33028
St Petersburg, Florida 33733
Smart communications will receive the mail, scan all mail (including letters, greeting cards, photos and news clippings) and forward the electronic mail to the SCI where the inmate is located. Envelopes will also be scanned and included with your mail. SCI will print mail and deliver to inmate.
What is considered non-legal mail?
Non-legal mail is all regular incoming correspondence between inmates, family and friends, which includes but it not limited to letters, photographs, greeting cards, and children’s drawings. All legal mail will be sent directly to the appropriate SCI for handling/processing. More information is provided below.
What mail will not be processed by Smart Communications?
Smart Communications is unable to process the following mail:
- Mail which contains an incorrect or incomplete number
- Mail which is missing an inmate number
- Mail which does not contain a full return address
- Mail which is addressed to DOC staff members
- Mail which is address to JPAY
- Mail which contains cash, personal checks or money orders
- Mail which is bound in the center or is in a format which prevents scanning
- Mail that has been damaged by the United States Postal Services
- Legal Mail
- Books, magazines or calendars
- Mail sent in bulk
Legal mail will be sent directly to the appropriate SCI and processed pursuant to the new legal mail policy. Publications will follow new procedures and should not be purchased and shipped to any SCI by third parties.
What happens if Smart Communications finds contraband or is exposed to these dangerous substances?
Smart Communications will search the mail for contraband and drugs and notify the institution of any finds. Staff are fully equipped with protective precautions and gear to keep them safe from dangerous exposures.
What return address should inmates use on outgoing mail?
Inmates should use the Smart Communications address with their name and inmate number as used for the incoming address.
SCI Camp Hill
PO Box 33028
St Petersburg FL 33733
Correctional Industries will be producing new envelopes. If you use an old envelope, please make the corrections
When will inmates receive their mail?
It can take 3-6 days for inmates to receive their mail. Smart Communications is processing the mail within 24 hours of its reception at their processing center in St. Petersburg, Florida. However, it can take the United States Postal Service 3-5 days to deliver the mail to Smart Communications. A reasonable effort will be made by the DOC mailrooms to ensure that incoming inmate mail is delivered to the inmate on the same day that they receive the mail from Smart Communications. This excludes weekends and holidays, mail which contains content requiring review by the IPRC, and mail that is being held for investigative purposes at the prison.
What do they do with the original mail?
All original mail will be retained for a period of 45 days unless otherwise instructed by DOC. After 45 days, original mail will be destroyed.
What happens to the electronic copies?
All scanned mail is uploaded to a database that is organized/sorted by inmate. It is sent to inmates' location six days per week. When the electronic mail reaches the facility, staff can approve, deny or forward mail. Approved mail is printed and delivered to inmates.
How long is the electronic mail saved?
Smart Communications maintains electronic copies for 45 days.
What happens if official documents are included in my mail sent to Smart Communications, such as drivers' license, social security cards, checks, court orders with raised seals etc.
Smart Communications will forward all official documents to the SCI business office where the inmate is located.
What happens with photos?
Photos will be scanned and are still subject to review by the Incoming Publication Review Committee. Photos are limited to 25 photos per mailing. If a mailing has more than 25 photos, the entire mailing will be rejected.
What type of paper will photos be printed on?
Standard copy paper with color.
Will inmates or inmate families be charged with printing the mail?
DOC is printing the mail from Smart Communications at no charge to inmates or their families.
Will photos from outside vendors such as Pre-print or Shutterfly be permitted?
Photos are permitted from vendors but are limited to 25 per mailing. Vendors must send all photos to Smart Communications for processing.
Can photos be returned to sender by Smart Communications?
No. All photos will be destroyed after the 45-day retention unless otherwise instructed by DOC.
How will the senders of mail know when the mail is delivered?
Senders of mail who register with
Smart Communications can receive alerts when mail arrives at Smart Communication and when it is delivered to or rejected by the DOC.
When mail is being returned to sender will there be any explanation of why it is being returned or where to send it next?
Yes. If you
register to track your mail, you can see why mail is rejected and receive a digital copy of the mail.
Will this process delay the parole process?
Green sheets, home plans and other time sensitive matters will not be delayed.
Will more information be provided?
We will continue to update the FAQs.
Where can I get more information about Smart Communications?
The Smart Communications website is great resource of information regarding their services
Attorney Control Numbers
How will mail sent from attorneys be processed?
Until April 6, 2019:
Legal mail must be sent to the institution address, with the requisite Attorney Control Number displayed on the outside of the envelope. It will be opened in front of the inmate and inspected for contraband. The mail will be copied and the inmate will receive a copy. The process will be videotaped, and the original will be placed in a secure receptacle and retained for 45 days. If no grievance is filed, the mail will be securely destroyed.
Beginning on April 6, 2019:
Legal mail from an attorney must contain an updated Attorney Control Number, as well as a separate secondary authentication number (valid for one week), on the outside of the envelope. It will then be opened in front of the inmate and inspected for contraband. If the legal mail passes that inspection process, the original will be given to the inmate. If the mail does not pass the inspection process, it will be confiscated.
Additional information will be sent via email to attorneys who have previously been issued an Attorney Control Number.
What are official documents?
Official documents include but are not limited to:
- Deposit Slips
- Birth Certificates
- Social Security Cards
- Driver's License
- Personal Identification Card
- Alien Registration Cards/Green Cards
- Welfare Card
- Medical Card
- School Diplomas
Where should I mail official documents?
All official documents should be mailed directly to institution address using the address format below:
Attn: Business Office – Inmate name/inmate number
Address Line #1
City, State Zip Code
Attn: Business Office – John Smith/ AB1234
SCI Camp Hill
P.O. Box 8837
Camp Hill, PA 17001
What happens to my mail containing an official document when it's mailed directly to the institution?
Official documents sent directly to the institution will be transferred to the business office and held on file for the inmate. Department staff will notify the inmate and his/her counselor of the document being held. Any other forms of general incoming correspondence, like letters, pictures, greeting cards, children’s drawings, etc., that are included with an official document sent directly to the institution’s business office are prohibited. In this situation the official document will be transferred to the business office by the SCI mailroom staff and all other correspondence included in the mailing will be destroyed.
Why are official documents given to the business office?
Per policy, inmates are not permitted to hold official documents in their cells for security reasons. Instead, the business office at each institution holds all inmate’s official documents on file for them. When an inmate is released they are given all their official documents before leaving.
Why will the general incoming correspondence included with an official document be destroyed?
All general incoming correspondence, including letters, pictures, greeting cards, children's drawings, etc., must be sent to and processed by Smart Communications.
What happens if I mail an official document to Smart Communications?
Smart Communications will continue to forward all official documents they receive to central office for proper distribution to the institution’s business offices. Any other forms of general incoming correspondence, like letters, pictures, greeting cards, children’s drawings etc., that are included with an official document sent to Smart Communications will be forwarded along with the official document to Central office and then to the coordinating SCI’s Business office. In this situation the official document will be transferred to the business office by the SCI mailroom staff and all other correspondence included in the mailing will be destroyed.
What happens to this official document mail from Smart Communications once it reaches the institution?
The official document will be transferred to the business office by the SCI mailroom staff and all other correspondence included in the mailing will be confiscated. An unacceptable correspondence form will be issued to the inmate and a copy of the Notice of Unacceptable Correspondence form will be sent to the Security Office at the Facility and the sender of the correspondence. At this time the inmate will be permitted to mail the unacceptable correspondence out of the facility at his/her own expense. If the inmate refuses to pay for the item to be mailed out, Department staff will destroy the confiscated items.
Can I mail a photo copy of an official document?
Yes, all photo copies of official documents are also held in the business office. You may mail a photo copy of a business document to the institution address starting January 31st or to Smart Communications. When your photo copy is mailed directly to the institution the photo copy of the official document will be transferred to the business office by the SCI mailroom staff and all other correspondence included in the mailing will be destroyed.
What happens if I mail a photo copy of an official document to Smart Communications?
When you mail a photo copy of an official document to Smart Communications they will scan the mail into their electronic system. It will then be printed at the institution by the SCI mailroom staff and transferred to the SCI Business office. All general incoming correspondence included with a photo copy of an official document sent to Smart Communications will also be scanned into the electronic system. It will then be printed at the institution by the SCI mailroom staff and delivered to the inmate.
How do I send a publication to an inmate?
The new inmate publication policy requires all books and magazines to be sent directly to the DOC's new Security Processing Center (SPC), at this mailing address:
Security Processing Center
Inmate name, Inmate #
268 Bricker Road
Bellefonte, PA 16823-1667
What does the SPC process?
- Donated Books
- Religious Material
- Donated Printed Religious Material/Items
- Bulk Religious Material
- Donated Library Books (Need approval from SCI librarian)
- Books for Staff
- Religious Correspondence Course Materials
- Education Correspondence Course Materials
How does the SPC operate?
The SPC will operate five days a week.
DOC security staff will conduct thorough security screenings of all incoming publications.
After publications clear the SPC, they will be sent to the mailroom at the prison where the inmate is located. From there, books and magazines will be delivered to inmates.
Facilities receiving publications that are addressed to a specific state prison rather than to the SPC will be returned to the sender.
Newspapers will not be processed by the SPC. Newspaper subscriptions should continue to be shipped directly to the SCI by the publisher.
*Please note: Family and friends of inmates cannot send publications directly to inmates and must work with original source book providers or sellers.
How can inmates purchase actual books/publications?
Inmates may order publications through catalogs and those inmates with tablets may order eBooks. Inmates must use the SPC as the shipping address for all books and magazines.
Are books available on tablets?
Yes. More than 8,500 eBooks are available on inmate tablets. The number of eBooks will continue to expand based on input by inmates and the DOC will continue to look for free eBook offerings. Inmates have purchased over 6,000 books since the eBooks launched in September.
Can family member's order books or subscriptions through publishers?
Yes. Family and friends may
only purchase publications directly through an original source vendor, which includes publishers, bookstores and online distributors. All books and magazines must be addressed to the SPC at the above address. Newspapers should be addressed to the SCI where the inmate is located.
Are inmates limited to the number of book requests?
Inmates are not limited to the number of books purchased – but must comply with the property limitations set forth in the DC-ADM 815.
Will free or donated books be available?
Yes. Book donation organizations will process donated books to individual inmates as they have done in the past (prior to the lockdown). These books will be processed through the SPC.
What happens with religious books or outside bible studies?
We will work with religious services to develop policy as soon as possible. Volunteers should not bring publications into the facility at this time.
What will happen to my current subscription for magazines/periodicals?
Inmates will have until December 31, 2018, to change the address on all magazines to the SPC.
Newspaper subscriptions may continue to be shipped directly to the SCI.
Are there limitations as to what books an inmate can order?
An inmate can order any book; however, it is still subject to content review by the Incoming Publication Review Committee, and content may not violate DC-ADM 803, "Inmate Mail and Incoming Publications."
Will libraries have additional subscriptions to magazines and periodicals?
DOC libraries will consider purchasing additional magazines and periodicals for inmates.
Are publications still being reviewed?
Yes. All publications remain subject to review by the IPRC and must comply with the DC-ADM 803.
If inmates do not have a tablet, how can they read books?
All SCIs have libraries with thousands of books. We will continue to increase the number and variety of books offered in the library. Inmates may also purchase publications through catalogs, as well as requesting books through donation organizations.
Has the DOC made any procedural changes to the visiting room?
Effective immediately, the DOC is doubling all staffing in the visiting rooms. In addition, the DOC is implementing a moratorium on photos and access to vending machines. Modified vending will return when the facility's inmate body scanner has been installed.
Are there any repercussions for visitors who violate DOC visiting room procedures?
Visitors who are caught introducing contraband into visiting rooms will receive an indefinite suspension from all DOC facilities.
What about inmates, will they experience repercussions for introducing contraband into a state correctional facility?
Inmates who are in possession of or test positive for drugs will be prohibited from having contact visits for a 6-month period for the first offense, a 12-month period for the second offense, and an indefinite-to-life for the third offense. Suspensions do not include visits from attorneys or Official Visitors.
What are Official Visitors?
Official Visitors are defined by Title 61 §3512 and include certain government officials, as well as authorized members of the Pennsylvania Prison Society (PPS).
Will any consideration be given for visitors with medical conditions who need to eat?
Visitors with medical conditions can submit a medical accommodation request for review. Email or contact the facility's superintendent's office to make the request.
Will there be a change to allowing one unopened formula bottle to be brought into the visiting room?
Current policies for infants will remain in effect, including a jar of baby food in the original unopened jar and up to 3 bottles (bottles must be clear plastic and contain pre-mixed formula or white milk). Please refer to specific SCI for more details.
Will trays be available for inmates (when they return to the block) if visits extend over lunch hour?
Yes. We should provide meals to inmates who missed meal from visits.
Will release clothing be permitted to be sent in?
How will commutation packets be processed?
Inmates will continue to write to the Board of Pardons and pay the fee for an Application for Commutation. The application is mailed to the inmate, but it does not need to be an original document. It will be mailed to Smart Communications for normal processing.
Will inmates continue to receive monthly account transaction statements?
Yes. Inmate account statements, with all transactions, are printed at the SCI monthly. They do not come in through the outside mail or a third party. These statements will continue as usual.
Will additional classes be offered for those attempting to complete programming in time for parole?
No. Classes will resume where they left off. There should not be any delays in parole processing.
How will the new policies affect outside purchases such as music equipment, art supplies or sneakers?
We will be reviewing our approved vendors, but for now there should be no changes.
Will inmates receive employment pay during lockdown?
Will there be any changes to the Access packs?
If inmate has permission to marry in the next 90 days, how will photos be taken?
Staff can take a few digital photos and copy them for the inmate.
Inmates that are pregnant will they still be allowed to bring pictures back from the hospital of their new baby.
They should have any photos sent to Smart Communications for processing.