RALEIGH — State prisons, including Lumberton Correctional Institution, will transition next month to a new mail system in a bid to reduce contraband smuggling. Starting Oct. 18, mail to inmates in a state prison must be sent directly to TextBehind. Under the new system inmates will receive copies of the letters sent to them.
Details will be posted on the N.C. Department of Public Safety website with instructions for mailing letters. Prisons officials said contraband smuggling is the main reason to contract with the Maryland-based company.
“The safety and security of our prisons are always foremost,” Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee said. “Reducing the volume of drugs and other contraband entering our prisons will help us protect our staff, the offenders in our custody and the general public. This new system will be faster and safer.” Reduction in smuggling will occur because TextBehind provides copies of mail to offenders, not the originals. The new system is expected to reduce mail delivery times to next-day delivery, once received by the company. “It is unfortunate that the actions of a relative few have created a situation in which offenders will no longer be able to touch the original of a paper letter, a handwritten greeting card or their kids’ artwork. But it is a step Prisons had to take so that our facilities remain safe and secure environments for our staff, for the offenders in our custody and for the general public,” said Brad Deen, communications officer for Prisons at NCDPS.
TextBehind, which processes mail for prisons and jails across the nation, will copy the mailed contents, including cards, photos and artwork, according to NCDPS. The company will then send the digital files to the prison where the offender is housed. The prison mail room at that facility will print the pages and deliver them to the offender. “Prisons has worked with TextBehind since February 2020 to process mail for offenders in our four female facilities. Results from the pilot project were excellent, so we are expanding it to the 51 male prisons,” Deen said. Disciplinary infractions for substance possession and use by offenders dropped by 50% the year after the female facilities began using TextBehind, according to NCDPS. During the same period, the men’s prisons recorded 568 cases of drugs or paraphernalia caught by mail room staff.
Privacy will not be affected, because mail is already screened for safety purposes before it reaches inmates, Deen said. Besides hiding contraband in prison mail, smugglers have learned to make the mail itself into a drug. Paper coated with liquid fentanyl, Suboxone, K2 or other controlled substance is hard to distinguish from regular paper. “Contraband makes a prison unsafe in so many ways,” Ishee said. “You have offenders struggling for control of the contraband trade. You have the risk of overdoses. Anything we can do to cut that off makes our prisons a safer, more secure place to live and work.” Ishee also said that having a third party process the mail “shifts the risk of exposure away from prison staff.” Prison systems across the country have transitioned to digital mail over the past few years, including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wyoming, Colorado and Arkansas, according to NCDPS. Numerous jails nationwide have done so as well through several digital-mail delivery businesses.
Alternatively, all legal mail, case files, supporting documents and court documents must be sent to the prison facility directly by an attorney or legal organization. Such mailings must be clearly marked as legal mail and will be inspected by Prisons mail handlers at the facility. In addition to processing mail sent through the U.S. Postal Service, TextBehind offers an app for smartphone or computer. People wishing to send offenders letters, greeting cards and uploaded photos and artwork can do so using the app. Downloading the app is free, but fees are charged (starting at 49 cents) to send content.
1 in 4 North Carolinians have criminal records, creating devastating “collateral consequences” that impact housing, employment, and other opportunities.
The Second Chance Act is a bipartisan “clean slate” bill that will expand eligibility for expunging nonviolent criminal convictions after a waiting period, and automates expungement of certain dismissed or “not guilty” charges. This bill allows prosecutors to petition for expungement for dismissed or “not guilty” charges and Raise the Age convictions, and allows individuals to petition for expungement of multiple nonviolent misdemeanor convictions after 7 years of good behavior.
HOW THE SECOND CHANCE ACT/SB 562 PROVIDES CLEAN SLATE RELIEF:
RAISE THE AGE EXPUNCTIONS.
Any Misdemeanor or Class H or I Felony committed before Dec. 1, 2019 by a person between the ages of 16-18 (at the time of the offense) can file a petition for expunction after an active sentence, probation and post release have been completed and there are no restitution orders outstanding. District Attorneys can now file these expungement petitions, which provide an opportunity for mass relief efforts.
You cannot file for expunction if:
A. The violation was for motor vehicle laws under Ch. 20 including impaired driving
B. The violation requires registration pursuant to Article 27A of Ch. 14
The forms to file an expungement under these criteria will be made and distributed by Sept. 1, 2020. There is a $175 filing fee through the court for this expungement.
EXPUNCTION FOR CHARGES NOT RESULTING IN CONVICTION.
Felony Conviction no longer blocks these expungements
One Dismissal: If a person has a dismissal of a misdemeanor or felony, the court shall order expunction. Effective: Dec. 1, 2020. Petition based: Must file with court
Multiple Dismissals: If all charges are dismissed the court will order an expungement and if some of the charges are dismissed the court may order expungement. Effective: Dec. 1, 2020. Petition based: Must file with court
Finding of Not Guilty: A person charged with a misdemeanor or felony and a finding of not guilty or not responsible is entered, the court will file for expunction. Effective: Dec. 1, 2020. Petition based: Must file with court. Can be one or multiple offenses
After Dec. 1, 2021: A person charged with a crime on or after Dec. 1, 2021 and charges are dismissed, found not guilty, or not responsible will be expunged
Automated Relief: If all charges are dismissed in the case these offenses will be automatically expunged
Plea Agreement: These are not automated but you can petition for expungement of charges that are dismissed through a plea agreement
MODIFICATION OF EXPUNCTION OF NONVIOLENT MISDEMEANOR AND FELONY CONVICTIONS
If a person is granted an expunction under this section, they are not eligible for any other expunction under this section for offenses committed after the date of the previous expunction. Effective: Dec. 1, 2020 and applies to petitions filed on or after that date.
You can file for expunction of one nonviolent misdemeanor:
5 years after the date of conviction, or active sentence, probation or post release has been served; whichever occurs later. You must have no other felony or misdemeanor convictions other than traffic; and no outstanding restitution or civil judgements.
You can file for expunction of more than one nonviolent misdemeanor:
7 years after the last date of conviction, or active sentence, probation or post release has been served; whichever occurs later, and have no other convictions that are excluded from expunction eligibility, felony or misdemeanor. You cannot have any other conviction during the 7-year waiting period, and must have no outstanding restitution or civil judgements
You can file for expunction of one nonviolent felony conviction:
10 years after the date of conviction, or active sentence, probation or post release has been served; whichever occurs later. You cannot have any other convictions during the 10-year waiting period and must have no outstanding restitution or civil judgements. No other convictions that are excluded from expunction eligibility
On May 8, 2019, SB 562 The Second Chance Act passed in the Senate, 44-0.
On June 10, 2020, SB 562 The Second Chance Act passed in the House, 119-0.
Note: The definitions of “nonviolent misdemeanor” and “nonviolent felony” are not changed by this bill. Expunged criminal records are not available to the public, but expunged dismissals and convictions can still be accessed by district attorneys and considered by courts for sentencing if the person re-offends.
Source of content: NC Second Chance Alliance