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Prison inmates don't have today's tech, maybe it's just as well

Good communication is widely acknowledged as being critical to positive human relations. These days, there are more ways than ever before to do that communicating, but many might argue that in this particular instance, more is not necessarily better.

We have written before in this blog and in at least one article, there are some good reasons to keep private information private -- especially where matters of family law are concerned. The possibility of one party in a divorce using information gleaned from social media or email accounts to potentially damage the other party's standing in a case is a real concern.

It's in light of this reality that those with experience dealing with Minnesota family law issues often urge clients to take special care with online security. Basic steps recommended include changing passwords and security questions; selecting the highest level of privacy settings on social media platforms; avoiding posting anything online that could be questionable, even if it's done anonymously; and avoiding putting anything you wouldn't want your spouse to read in an email.

There is no question that electronic messaging in its many forms has its benefits. When used well it can enhance connections between families and friends, parents and children. Those who advocate for prison reform suggest such pluses might also make a positive difference for incarcerated individuals, if they only had access to such systems.

The problem though, according to a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative, is that prison systems have been slow to adopt such technologies. Sometimes the reason for that is security. But even where secure systems are available, researchers find that there are issues.

Very often they are run by for-profit private companies at a cost that is prohibitive for inmates and their families. And the chief author of the study says the collection of personal data by the providers poses a privacy concern. As he puts it, "It's not hard to imagine messages being subpoenaed for use in civil litigation or family law proceedings."

This seems to beg the question whether there's any safe way to leverage current technology to foster the sort of communication that might actually help inmates and families do better.

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