Correspondence using pen and ink pen-pal services are no longer the only option prisoners use to communicate. Low-cost dating services through the Internet have created a $3 billion dollar dating industry that’s keeping pace with mass incarceration, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
“The overlap is a growing constellation of sites with names such as loveaprisoner.com, inmate-connection.com, and inmatepassions.com that promote companionship between those living inside and those living outside prison walls,” Businessweek reported.
Prisoner access to those sites, however, is coming under attack by prison officials and law makers. They are saying, “any expense related to inmate romance, including computer access, is too much,” it was reported.
Contraband cell phones are not required to access many dating websites.
“A small step toward positive change”
“Inmates submit their profiles via snail mail, and the site operators type up or scan them to post online,” Businessweek reported. “The sites help strip away the mindless chitchat, bad movies, and restaurant-choosing anxiety that often come with early courtship.”
Prisons in Indiana, Missouri, Montana, and Pennsylvania have limited inmate access to pen-pal sites. And Florida has a complete ban on them, Businessweek reported.
“Prisoners are out of sight, out of mind,” said University of Alberta public health researcher Tom Churchill, who thinks the sites are “a small step toward positive change.”
The sites help prisoners to better deal with their sentences when they know someone on the outside is thinking of them, and the sites may help to reduce recidivism, according to Churchill. After surveying some 2,500 U.S. prisoners and pen pals, he said, “It can have a positive benefit for those inside and out.”
Critics, on the other hand, say dating sites “give criminals a chance to prey on the emotions and bank accounts of the naive,” Businessweek reported. “Most of the inmate sites carry hefty disclaimers, urging users to avoid giving money or sensitive personal details.”
Like many things in life, pen-pal relationships don’t last. One woman, according to Businessweek, wrote to three men in California for several years. “Eventually the jokes about living in a ‘gated community’ grew old, and she stopped visiting.”