SMH: The Rapid & Unregulated Growth of E‑messaging in Prisons


The cost to send an e-message is typically between 27 and 30 cents but can cost as much as 50 cents per message in some states.

Text-based electronic messaging or “e-massaging,” not to be confused with emailing, has exploded in the past decade. At least 43 state prison systems and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) offer e-messaging. Although popular, e-messaging has been criticized for its unnecessary character limitations, the requirement for access to a proprietary platform to read or write a message, limited attachment capabilities for an additional fee, and high costs. Providers charge incarcerated people and their families for each message, often doubling the costs to include attachments such as photos or a short video. Some companies provide bulk pricing schemes to maximize profit, where someone pays a higher per-message cost–40 percent more for each e-message in some states– if they cannot afford to purchase a large block of messages. Other pricing schemes include charging someone on the outside a per-message price and then charging incarcerated people a per-minute rate to access, read, and reply. This report examined all 50 state prison systems and the BOP to identify the prevalence of e-messaging, its costs, and ways to protect incarcerated people and their families from exploitation. 

You can read the full text here

Key Findings:

  • Two corporations, Securus and Global Tel*Link, dominate 81 percent of the prison e-messaging market. 
  • A review of 14 state systems found character limitations for e-messaging vary from 500 to 20,000 characters, making longer messages more expensive in some systems.
  • Half of the states offer bulk pricing schemes for e-messaging.
  • Prison systems that do not receive kickbacks/site commissions have the lowest prices, some as low as 15 cents per message.


  • Provide e-messaging as a free service for end-users.
  • Eliminate site commissions.
  • Let competing providers add their e-messing apps to tablets to reduce prices and improve functionality.
Prison Policy Initiative