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Prisons In Pennsylvania Scanning Inmates’ Mail: A Solution or Another Problem?

Since 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) implemented a policy of scanning prisoners’ mail in an attempt to address the issue of drug trafficking within its facilities. The goal was to reduce the number of drugs entering the prison system through postal correspondence. Nearly five years after this policy took effect, the drug problem within Pennsylvania prisons remains. This article examines the efficacy of this policy and explores the potential consequences of the mail scanning practice.

The Mail Scanning Policy

The mail scanning policy was introduced after a series of overdoses and related incidents that were traced back to drugs being smuggled into the prisons via mail. As a response, PADOC implemented a system where all mail addressed to prisoners would be sent to a third-party facility for scanning. The mail would then be opened, photocopied, and the copies would be forwarded to the recipient prisoners. Original mail would be stored for 45 days before being destroyed. This policy was designed to prevent contraband from entering prisons and to reduce the risk of exposure to dangerous substances for both prisoners and staff.

Effectiveness of the Policy

Nearly five years after the policy was implemented, the drug problem within Pennsylvania prisons remains a pressing issue. While the number of drug-related incidents has decreased, there is still a significant presence of drugs within the prison system. This suggests that the policy has not been as effective as initially hoped, and alternative routes of drug trafficking are being exploited.

Impact on Prisoners and Their Families

The mail scanning policy has raised concerns among prisoners and their families, as well as advocacy groups. The privacy of personal correspondence is a fundamental right, and many argue that the policy violates that right. Moreover, the impersonal nature of receiving photocopied mail has a detrimental impact on the mental health of prisoners, as it deprives them of a crucial form of human connection.

Additionally, there have been reported cases of delays and lost mail, which only add to the frustration and anxiety experienced by both prisoners and their families. Some argue that the resources spent on scanning and copying mail could be better utilized by investing in comprehensive drug treatment programs and addressing the root causes of addiction.


While the mail scanning policy in Pennsylvania prisons may have been introduced with the best intentions, its effectiveness in addressing the drug problem within the facilities is debatable. The policy has sparked concerns about privacy and the mental well-being of prisoners, as well as questions about the allocation of resources. It is crucial for the PADOC and policymakers to explore alternative approaches, focusing on rehabilitation and drug treatment programs, while ensuring that prisoners maintain their connection to the outside world and their loved ones.

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