WriteAPrisoner.com, Inc. Logo
|Headquarters||Edgewater, Volusia County, Florida|
|Membership||12,000 inmate members, 41,000 non-inmate members, 25,000 forum members|
|Official languages||Primarily English|
WriteAPrisoner.com is an online Florida, (USA) based business whose stated goal is to reduce recidivism through a variety of methods that include: 1) positive correspondence with pen-pals on the outside, 2) educational opportunities, 3) job placement avenues, 4) comprehensive resource guides on a variety of related issues, 5) scholarships for children impacted by crime, and 6) advocacy. The site began primarily as a place to post pen-pal profiles and requests for legal assistance for inmates and has evolved to take a more comprehensive approach to addressing the life of an inmate. The site has expanded to address many prison-related issues. It currently features eight different listings for inmates: 1) Pen-pal Profiles; 2) Educational Profiles; 3) Employment Profiles; 4) Housing Profiles; 5) Legal Profiles; 6) inmate art; 7) inmate blogs; and 8) inmate poems.
The prison pen-pal website was launched in 2000 and typically hosts more than 12,000 inmate profiles. With the growing trend in incarceration (the U.S. prison population quadrupled between 1980 and 2000), a far-reaching impact has been felt by families and society. This massive imprisonment of U.S. citizens, many for non-violent crimes, and what has become known as the "big business" of incarceration, has generated a substantial body of research and public outcry to seek alternatives. Books like The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman have facilitated discourse among mainstream Americans regarding a variety of burdens placed upon society by America's incarceration rates, the highest in the world. The economic downturn of 2008 escalated financial challenges to the prison system overall, highlighted by such actions as Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri establishing a task force to seek lower prison costs while other states also grappled with prison costs, both financial and human. Senator Cory Booker (former mayor of Newark, New Jersey), has been a steadfast advocate for prison reform. Although WriteAPrisoner.com's stated mission is reducing recidivism in order to lessen these negative impacts on families and society, it is also involved with human rights activities with an emphasis on advocacy.
- hosts a forum where friends and families of inmates connect to provide advice, support, and guidance;
- offers Back to Work, a free online résumé-posting service for inmates being released within the year;
- coordinates Books Behind Bars, a program to promote literacy and educational opportunities;
- publishes a free, comprehensive Prison Resource Directory and Victim Resource Directory;
- provides college scholarships through its Children Impacted by Crime Scholarship Fund;
- provides free Welcome Home Kits to select indigent inmates upon release;
- receives e-mail messages on the inmates' behalf, prints the messages, and mails them to the inmates twice monthly;
- publishes a free self-help series for inmates covering topics such as education, employment, parenting from prison, credit repair and more.
WriteAPrisoner.com provides empirical evidence through a meta-analysis, which supports claims that positive relations built through correspondence help reduce recidivism. A multitude of studies, including the state of Minnesota's 2011 five-year research project, cite numerous benefits to inmates, society at large, and Departments of Corrections regarding the importance of inmates establishing and maintaining positive communication with the outside world, especially with regard to visitation. Inmates who maintain good morale during incarceration are much less likely to recidivate.
There are approximately 12,000 inmates profiled on the site, most of whom are incarcerated in the United States. However, the site also includes international inmates. Although the site provides no Internet access of any kind to inmates, it has often been called the MySpace and Facebook for inmates by the media. Because the business is housed online and includes inmate profiles, it has been compared to social media; however, most agencies recognize it as promoting traditional pen-pal postal mail because the site provides no mechanism for inmates to access the site online. Inmates using WriteAPrisoner.com only have access to postal mail. The site has evolved from its primary focus on pen-pals to include related features such as its Books Behind Bars and Back to Work programs, resources for inmates and their families, resources for crime victims, and publishing free self-help guides on topics such as going to prison, furthering education while incarcerated and repairing credit while in prison. The interactive features include polling and chats, with most emphasis on the site’s Internet forum where friends and family of inmates share stories and advice. Forum participants include pen-pals to inmates on the site and others interested in prison life. Topics cover a broad range include sharing advice about corresponding with inmates and visiting inmates. The site charges inmates $40 per year to post their profile and photo, which are viewed freely by the public. Inmates cannot receive email because they do not have access to the Internet. The site encourages writing directly to inmates or sending a first message through its free e-mail forwarding service. The site responds to social trends and began addressing crime prevention by launching a sister site in 2010, CrimeFreeKids.com. The site maintains its own Facebook page and Twitter account and uses site alerts to notify constituents regarding time-sensitive issues such as letter-writing campaigns, volunteering to mentor children of incarcerated parents, or media requests. Because of the unusual nature of the business, many newspaper and journal articles have addressed the site, and the owner, Adam Lovell, has been interviewed by many media organizations. In 2006 GoDaddy owner Bob Parsons chose to interview Lovell for GoDaddy Radio's first anniversary because of the widespread influence WriteAPrisoner.com has had in the prison subculture. Lovell established a blog on the site to personally address specific topics and wrote a guest article for QuintCareers.com offering suggestions for ex-offenders looking for work. The entrepreneur has taken the site from its initial concept of a pen-pal site to a full-fledged resource for inmates and their families.
The site received national media attention in July 2003 when Susan Smith, a young mother convicted of killing her children, posted a profile seeking pen-pals. The South Carolina Department of Corrections issued a press release related to the incident. WriteAPrisoner.com removed the profile at Smith's request. The site received some criticism when its spokesperson used the term "freak show" to describe the media coverage of the Susan Smith story. The site later issued a press release apologizing and stating that the term had been taken out of context. The site has been featured on many programs including 20/20 and E! True Hollywood Story. The site claims to avoid 'shock media' and notorious inmates and has pulled and denied inmate profiles to avoid sensationalism. Kenneth Foster, Jr., whose stay of execution was granted by Texas Governor Rick Perry just hours before the scheduled execution, maintains a profile on the site. In March 2006, the site made local news when it posted a profile for Adrian Peeler who was convicted in the killing of an eight year old boy and his mother. The site immediately removed Peeler’s profile when the story was featured in the Connecticut Post. The site had also featured a profile for Peeler's brother, Russell Peeler, who was involved in the murder. His profile was also removed by the site.
Some controversies involved claims of inmates misleading the public. When the state of Missouri investigated claims that several dozen female inmates were deceiving male pen-pals, the proactive response of the site resulted in a positive response by the public. A study conducted by the University of Louisville reported that not all inmates on the site accurately reported their crimes or release dates at one point. However, this study was rebutted by the site. WriteAPrisoner.com provides a link from each inmate's profile to his or her respective Department of Corrections website so that the public can verify the information. WriteAPrisoner.com's stated policy is to remove the profile of any inmate found misusing the site.
WriteAPrisoner.com has made an impact in the prison community and the courts. In 2009 the site was named as a plaintiff in Perry v. Hicks, a lawsuit against the state of Florida for violating inmates' First Amendment rights. The site was named along with Freedom Through Christ Prison Ministry in the suit filed by the Florida Justice Institute. The emerging use of third party technology regarding inmate pen-pals appears to be gaining some acceptance. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, for instance, upheld inmates’ rights to receive e-mail printouts from online pen-pals. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit also found that inmates have the constitutional right to seek pen-pals through websites. In Arizona a House Bill was passed to bar inmates from posting profiles on WriteAPrisoner.com and similar websites. The law was later ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge after the ACLU challenged it in court. In considering legislation which would prohibit inmates from utilizing social media such as Facebook, officials in South Carolina made a point to exclude WriteAPrisoner.com from the bill, citing WriteAPrisoner.com's vetting process of inmates’ information and the fact that it does not provide a mechanism for Internet contact for inmates. While WriteAPrisoner.com does not allow inmates any form of actual Internet contact, many prisons now have services such as Corrlinks, which allows inmates monitored email access for a fee.
The site states that it seeks to work with states' Departments of Corrections to ensure that the First Amendment rights of inmates are protected. The site has previously collaborated with the ACLU and the Florida Justice Institute regarding rights of inmates  and has been represented by the Florida Justice Institute. The site also claims to maintain a zero tolerance approach towards scams committed by inmates as well as scams committed against inmates.
A Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting was awarded to Joseph Hallinan, whose book, Going Up the River: Travels in a Prison Nation, reported that the prison experience has become so commonplace in America that one in eleven American men can expect to be incarcerated at some point in his lifetime. That number has now reached one in ten, with one in one hundred Americans presently incarcerated. Prison pen-pal sites are a growing phenomenon as a result. Although the site is the largest of its kind, it is not alone in its endeavor to help inmates find pen-pals, legal aid, education, housing and employment. There are many other commercial and non-commercial sites. Some religious sites, such as Prison Fellowship International, offer pen-pal programs for inmates.
The site has gained attention in books and publications. It is linked to a fictional character in The Memory Artists, a novel by award-winning author Jeffrey Moore. The character of Dr. Emile Vorta is the novel’s linchpin, and in the preface he cites his affiliation with WriteAPrisoner.com. Another book, The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue: A Novel, 2004, by Barbara Samuel, quotes WriteAPrisoner.com. Another, One Good Work at a Time: Simple Things You Can Do to Make a Difference, 2006, by Frances Sheridan Goulart, encourages readers to donate to the site's Books Behind Bars program. Its Books Behind Bars program is often lauded in O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine. Not This Sunday, a children's novel by Cindy Lovell, is about a fifth grade boy dealing with his father's recent incarceration and mentions the site as a resource for families. The site sometimes finds itself the subject of parody at times by some media outlets. The site and owner were mentioned in the Mensa Research Journal as an example of giftedness in the workplace.
- Anika Myers. "Dear Inmate: Do You Need a Friend?". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-03-31.
- Liliana Segura (2013-10-01). "With 2.3 Million People Incarcerated in the US, Prisons Are Big Business". The Nation. Retrieved 2013-12-14.
- Terry Gross (2013-08-12). "Behind 'The New Black': The Real Piper's Prison Story". NPR. Retrieved 2013-12-14.
- Stephen Colbert (2013-12-14). "Bryan Stevenson Interview on The Colbert Report". The Colbert Report. Retrieved 2013-12-14.
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- Mike Riggs (2013-10-21). "Cory Booker Is Now the Senate's Highest Profile Advocate for Criminal Justice Reform". The Atlantic Cities. Retrieved 2013-12-14.
- WriteAPrisoner.com. "Back to Work". Retrieved 2011-02-20.
- Neal Moore (2011-03-28). "Employment Upon Release". CNN. Retrieved 2011-03-28.
- WriteAPrisoner.com. "Books Behind Bars". Retrieved 2010-03-11.
- WriteAPrisoner.com. "Resource Directory". Retrieved 2011-02-20.
- WriteAPrisoner.com. "Children Impacted by Crime Scholarship Fund". Retrieved 2011-02-20.
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- WriteAPrisoner.com. "Self-Help Series". Retrieved 2011-02-20.
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- WriteAPrisoner.com. "WriteAPrisoner.com's Twitter". Retrieved 2011-02-20.
- Bob Parsons. "Interview with WriteAPrisoner.com founder Adam Lovell". Retrieved 2008-02-05.
- Adam Lovell. "Webmaster’s Blog". Retrieved 2008-02-05.
- Adam Lovell. "Trading Your Cell in for a Cubicle". Retrieved 2011-06-19.
- Associated Press (2003-07-11). "Online personal ad features child killer Susan Smith". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
- Manuel Ruig-Franzia. "Serving Life, a Pen Pal Crashes the Server". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
- South Carolina Dept. of Corrections. "Statement Regarding Inmate Susan Smith SCDC #221487". Archived from the original on 2007-02-14. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
- WriteAPrisoner.com. "WriteAPrisoner.com Press Release - Susan Smith". Retrieved 2008-02-03.
- Associated Press (2003-07-11). "Site Asks Kid Killer to Remove Ad". CBS News. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
- 20/20. "Why Are Women Marrying Murderers?". Retrieved 2008-02-03.
- Documentary. "THS Investigates: Love Behind Bars". Retrieved 2008-02-03.
- Emily Ramshaw. "Perry commutes Texas death row inmate Foster's sentence". Retrieved 2008-02-04.
- Kenneth Foster, Jr. "Kenneth Foster, Jr. Personal Profile". Retrieved 2008-02-04.
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- Kansas City News. "Kansas City". Archived from the original on 2006-11-13. Retrieved 2010-03-11.
- Richard Tewksbury. "Personal Ads From Prisoners: Do Inmates Tell the Truth about Themselves?". Retrieved 2008-02-04.
- WriteAPrisoner.com. "Tewksbury Study Rebuttal". Retrieved 2011-02-02.
- WriteAPrisoner.com. "Precautionary Measure Taken by WriteAPrisoner.com". Retrieved 2008-02-04.
- "Perry v. Hicks, 2009-cv-00403 (M.D. Fla.)".
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- G. Scheet. "Web sites promoting liaisons with prisoners abound". Retrieved 2008-02-04.
- Mark Thompson. "Pen pal ads nixed in Florida". Retrieved 2008-02-04.
- WriteAPrisoner.com. "Precautionary Measures Taken by WriteAPrisoner.com". Retrieved 2008-02-05.
- Adam Liptak (2008-04-23). "U.S. Prison Population Dwarfs That of Other Nations". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-02-14.
- Quantcast. "WriteAPrisoner Network". Retrieved 2010-03-11.
- Moore (2006), pp. preface.
- Samuel (2004), pp. 45.
- Goulart (2006), pp. 75-76.
- WriteAPrisoner.com. "Books Behind Bars". Retrieved 2008-02-05.
- Aimee lee Ball. "Book Keeping". Retrieved 2008-02-06.
- Lovell (2007), pp. 67, 147.
- Lizzy Ratner, Ken Moy, & George Gurley. "Meet Wesley Clark Jr.". Retrieved 2008-02-06.
- Lovell (2008), "Finding Your Niche or Creating Your Niche? You Decide" Mensa Research Journal, Vol. 39, No. 2.
- Goulart, Frances Sheridan (2006). One Good Work at a Time: Simple Things You Can Do to Make a Difference. Notre Dame, Indiana: Sorin Books. ISBN 978-1-893732-90-2.
- Lovell, Cindy (2007). Not This Sunday. Hightstown, New Jersey: NL Associates, Inc. ISBN 978-1-878347-72-5.
- Moore, Jeffrey (2006). The Memory Artists. New York, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. ISBN 978-0-312-34925-7.
- Samuel, Barbara (2004). The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue: A Novel. New York, New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-47775-0.