WriteAPrisoner.com, Inc. Logo
|Headquarters||Edgewater, Volusia County, Florida|
|Membership||12,000 inmate members, 41,000 non-inmate members, 25,000 forum members|
WriteAPrisoner.com is an online Florida-based business whose stated goal is to reduce recidivism through a variety of methods that include positive correspondence with pen-pals on the outside, educational opportunities, job placement avenues, resource guides, scholarships for children impacted by crime, and 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.
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. By 2003 the site had about 10,000 hits per day and presented profiles from inmates in about a dozen countries. Inmates using WriteAPrisoner.com only have access to postal mail and charges inmates $40 per year to post their profile and photo, which are viewed freely by the public. The site encourages writing directly to inmates or sending a first message through its free e-mail forwarding service. The president and owner of the company is Adam Lovell. In 2010 the website received about 2 million page views per month.
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, which received 800,000 hits. Smith received more than 6,000 letters in response to her profile. 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. 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. Several states have placed a ban on inmate penpal sites in response to these issues, which the site owner has stated is a violation of the First Amendment.
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.
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.
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