FAQ - New Procedures
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 MailGuardÔ 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. MailGuardÔ 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. 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?
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?
Following a 60 to 90 day transition period, Smart Communications will forward all mail within 24 hours of receipt, six days per week. During the initial transition period, it may take up to five days for mail to arrive at the SCI's.
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 seven years.
What happens if official documents are included in my mail, 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 returned.
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.
Will photos be available on tablets?
Yes. In the near future, photos will be available on tablets.
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?
Following the transition period, Smart Communications will process mail within 24 hours. The electronic mail will be pre-sorted by housing unit; thus, reducing time in the SCI mailrooms. 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. In addition, Smart Communications is developing FAQs that will be available to inmates and families.
Where can I get more information about Smart Communications?
The Smart Communications website is great resource of information regarding their services
How will legal mail be processed?
Legal mail will be opened in front of the inmate and inspected. It will be copied and the inmate will receive a copy. The process will be videotaped with the recording being secured by Smart Communications. The original will be placed in a secured box and be retained for 15 days. If no grievance is filed, the mail will be securely destroyed.
Can we have the legal mail originals destroyed in front of us when we get the copies?
Not at this time. Policy must be followed with document retention.
Are courts being notified or cooperating with DOC in regard to mail delivery stoppage in conjunction with deadline?
Any inmates who claim to have missed a deadline due to the lockdown may file a grievance or submit a request slip and the Office of Chief Counsel will review.
Will Legal mail ultimately be sent to the outside Vendor for processing?
How can inmates purchase actual books?
Inmates can make a request to purchase any book. The DOC will provide the inmate with the cost of the book. Once the inmate submits a cash slip for the book, the DOC will order the book and have it shipped to the inmate.
How will DOC purchase books?
The DOC will access many avenues to locate books, always keeping a reasonable price as a critical factor.
Are books available on tablets?
By September 18, 2018, more than 8,500 e-books will be available on inmate tablets.
Can family members still order books through publishers?
No. All publications must be purchased through DOC.
Can families purchase a book or subscription for inmates?
We will be reviewing a process in the near future to enable families to purchase books/ subscriptions.
How do inmates request to purchase a book?
- Inmate selects Publication request icon on kiosk.
- Inmate includes name of book and author on request icon.
- This icon is for publication request ONLY. All other requests will be deleted.
- Central Office receives request and does a search, with price always in mind.
- Central Office responds to inmate request on kiosk with price of book.
- Inmate has two business days to submit a special "publication request" cash slip to Business Office for price of book.
- Upon confirmation of payment Central Office purchases book.
- Book is shipped to SCI and delivered to inmate.
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?
During a transition period, we will not be accepting donated books for individual inmates; however, we are working on a process that would enable the DOC to accept free books for the general inmate population.
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 be bringing publications into the facility at this time.
What will happen to my current subscription for magazines/ periodicals?
For now, you will continue to receive issues of current subscriptions. If any issue is compromised, it will be confiscated and destroyed. No future subscription orders may be purchased except through the kiosk.
Are there limitations as to what books an inmate can order?
An inmate can request 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.
How do I order new subscriptions to magazines and periodicals?
- Similar to books, inmates must request subscriptions through the publication request icon on the kiosk.
- Central Office will notify inmate of price.
- Inmate has two business days to submit a cash slip.
- Central Office will order subscriptions in bulk.
- Magazines will be delivered in bulk.
- The SCI will have list of which inmates paid for subscriptions and will deliver issues directly to inmates.
What will happen to books that had arrived at SCI during lockdown?
All books will be returned to sender.
What will happen to magazines/ newspapers delivered during lockdown?
Magazines and periodicals will be delivered to inmates if they do not violate the DC-ADM 803.
Are publications still being reviewed?
Yes. All publications are still 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. We will continue to increase the number and variety of books offered in the library. Inmates may also purchase books.
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 90-day moratorium on photos and access to vending machines.
What will the DOC do after the 90-day moratorium expires?
During this 90-day period the DOC will reevaluate the visiting room procedures.
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 receive a 6-month visit suspension for the first offense, a 12-month visit suspension for the second offense, and an indefinite-to-life visit suspension for the third offense. Suspensions do not include visits from attorneys or Official Visitors.
Will the suspensions apply to inmates who have already tested positive?
No. The suspensions will be in effect for any inmate who tests positive starting November 1, 2018.
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 an inmate is involved in a correspondence course with an outside educational facility how are they to continue to receive the textbooks and materials? Can the materials be direct mailed to the facility?
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.
Can inmates still purchase calendars?
We will work with Correctional Industries to offer calendars through commissary. There will be no outside purchases for calendars other than commissary.
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.