Computers have become an integral part of daily life for inmates within the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Commonplace in inmate housing units at federal prisons across the country, computers facilitate inmate access to an assortment of required inmate services and privileges, fundamental prison- and reentry-related information, and other news and information relevant to inmates.
Of course, federal inmates do not have unrestricted access to computers, personal computers, or any access to the internet. Instead, they have access to Trust Fund Limited Inmate Communication System (TRULINCS) terminals. These terminals allow inmates access to a tightly controlled and closely monitored computer system.
There are a wide variety of services available through the TRULINCS terminals. Institutional staff may use TRULINCS to make the inmate population aware of notices and other postings (locally or nationally), to relay medical-related information to individual inmates (such as prescription refill notices), and other tasks, such as conducting surveys concerning a variety of topics and posting newly activated program statements.
Some of the activities that inmates are required to use TRULINCS for include registering addresses for the purpose of printing mailing labels (which are required for all postal correspondence), entering telephone numbers for administrative approval, and conducting certain types of personal fund transfers. Elective TRULINCS services include personal electronic messaging (which is similar to email) and access to an available MP3 music service. With TRULINCS, federal inmates are also provided with a means to communicate electronically with specific departments within an institution and/or with specific Bureau staff.
The following is an overview of the many features available on inmate-accessible computers within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Security Functions and User Warning
Because TRULINCS is a personalized service, it utilizes a number of security features. In most cases, to login inmates must enter their eight-digit federal prison registration number, their nine-digit Phone Access Code (TruFone PAC), and scan their thumbprint on a scanner module provided at each computer terminal. Where fingerprint-scanning capabilities are not in place, inmates must enter their four-digit Personal Identification Number (PIN) in lieu of scanning their thumbprint.
When logging in, inmates are also required to select their primary language (English or Spanish) and agree to a “Warning/Responsibility/Acknowledgement” message which warns against misuse and notifies inmates of staff monitoring of TRULINCS activities.
Primary Menu Screen
From the primary menu screen inmates can access the various functions of the TRULINCS terminals, and may view various notifications. These notifications include new public messages and/or staff messages, new approved or rejected personal contacts, and local and/or national announcements. The functions can largely be divided into Pay-Per-Minute Services, Print Services and Other Services.
-Pay-Per-Minute Services: Consist exclusively of Public Messaging.
-Print Services: Consist of printing mailing labels, emails, bulletin board postings and materials from the TRULINCS Electronic Law Library.
-Other Services: Consist of a variety of other services, such as Account Transactions, Bulletin Board, Contact List, Law Library, Manage Funds, Music, Prescription/Notifications, Request to Staff and Surveys.
Inmates can also purchase TRU-Units (at $0.05 per unit), which are required to use the Public Messaging function and print copies of emails, bulletin board postings, and materials from the Electronic Law Library.
The only Pay Per Minute service is Public Messaging. This function allows inmates to correspond with approved community contacts through the website www.Corrlinks.com. The only way to seek approval for electronic communication with a specific community contact is to enter the contact’s information (name, mailing address, and email address) into the Contact List function of TRULINCS and wait for approval from both the contact and the prison administration. Inmates are allowed a maximum of 30 email contacts.
The electronic Public Messaging service is similar to other email services except that incoming and outgoing messages are text-only, there is a 13,000 character limit for each message (the service provides a “Characters Remaining” indicator), and inmates can only use the service for 30 minutes at a time (with no limit on the number of sessions per day). Inmates must use the TRULINCS computer terminals in order to send or receive messages, and community contacts must go to www.Corrlinks.com in order to send or receive messages with their incarcerated contact. Messages are not delivered to their personal email inbox. For the community contact, TRULINCS emails are similar to web mail.
While this service is free for those outside of prison, federal prisoners must pay $0.05 per minute when in the Public Messaging folio, which is required to read and compose messages.
It should be noted that inmates convicted of certain types of crimes involving the internet (e.g., possession, receipt, or production of child pornography, soliciting a minor for sexual activity, etc.) may not be eligible to participate in the Public Messaging service. Also, eligible participants may not be authorized to have email contact with certain individuals, such as victims, witnesses, or volunteers who come to the prison. Access may also be suspended or revoked in the case of an investigation or conviction for prison misconduct.
Inmates are allowed to print mailing labels, emails, and other electronic documents. While it is free to print mailing labels, inmates must pay $0.15 per page to print other materials. These other materials typically include emails, Inmate Bulletin Board postings, staff messages, and materials from the Electronic Law Library. It should be noted that all of these materials can be viewed on the TRULINCS computers for free (with the exception of emails with community contacts).
Print stations are typically located in the Education Department, though some federal prisons have additional print stations in the Recreation Department and housing units.
There are a number of free services that federal inmates have access to. What follows is a brief overview of each:
-Account Transactions: This function displays the inmate’s commissary/trust fund account balance and separate tabs for Commissary Transactions (details commissary account balances, spending limits, restrictions, encumbrances, etc., as well as recent commissary transactions); Telephone Account Statement (details funds placed on the inmate’s phone account and telephone calls placed); TRULINCS Transactions (details print and email use fees, along with TRU-Unit purchases); and Media (lists MP3 files purchased).
-Bulletin Board: This function displays a bulletin board where institutional memorandums, documents, and notifications, local and national inmate-relevant news and information, daily call-outs, recently activated program statements, pre-release and law-related information, and other information is available for inmate viewing.
-Contact List: This function allows inmates to add contacts to their contact list. Here inmates can add the contact’s first and last name, mailing address, phone number, and email address. Inmates must add a contact’s phone number and/or their email address in order to call or email them. Likewise, in this folio inmates are able to print mailing labels for postal correspondence, which are required for all outgoing mail. While inmates are allowed up to 100 total contacts, only 30 phone numbers and 30 email addresses may be active at any one time.
-Law Library: The TRULINCS Electronic Law Library function is generally accessible at designated terminals only. Some facilities may have a number of such terminals in inmate housing units, while other federal prisons will have a designated law library with a number of terminals which only allow access to the TRULINCS Electronic Law Library function. Often such terminals are located in the Education Department.
-Manage Funds: This function provides inmates with tools and options for managing the funds that they have in their commissary/trust fund account. Here inmates can send funds through a BP-199 form (which is completed electronically, printed, signed, and then turned into their counselor for processing), view pending and rejected BP-199s (along with the reason for rejection, if applicable), and manage their Pre-Release Account (inmates can set aside funds to aid in release planning, select the amount of funds to be placed in this account, and even cancel the account and have the funds placed back into their regular commissary/trust fund account).
-Music: The TRULINCS Music Service allows inmates who have purchased an MP3 player at the commissary to search, sample, and purchase MP3 song files. In total, there are over 2 million songs to choose from. Inmates are allowed to sample 30 songs each day (in 30 second samples) and purchase up to 15 songs each day. Songs range in cost from 16 TRU-Units ($0.80) to 31 TRU-Units ($1.55). At this current time, MP3 players cost $88.40 and hold approximately 4,000 songs.
-Prescription/Notifications: This function allows inmates to request medication refills (which are then picked up at the Pharmacy window a few days later) and view any consultation notifications (this usually concerns outside contractors like orthopedic surgeons).
-Request to Staff: Within the Staff Messaging folio inmates can send emails to staff members and receive responses from them. Inmates are not charged for this service, but are limited to one email message per day. Much like the TRULINCS Public Messaging function, messages are limited to 13,000 characters, though inmates cannot save a message as a draft.
-Surveys: From time to time, Bureau staff post national surveys for inmate participation. All surveys are voluntary. Typical surveys concern Food Services, health and dental care, and surveys concerning safety and inmate perceptions.
While TRULINCS is, for the most part, standardized throughout the Federal Bureau of Prisons, some facilities may have select features or programs available. One example is TRU-Video, a Pay-Per-Minute video-visitation service similar to Skype. This program requires TRU-Video-specific computer terminals on which scheduled video visits with approved visitors take place.
The advent of inmate-accessible computers within the Federal Bureau of Prisons is an ongoing process. Updates and changes occur regularly on TRULINCS as the system evolves, and programs and features may be added or removed at any time.
About Christopher Zoukis
Christopher Zoukis is an outspoken prisoner rights and correctional education advocate who is incarcerated at FCI Petersburg Medium in Virginia. He is an award-winning writer whose work has been published widely in major publications such as The Huffington Post, Prison Legal News, New York Daily News and various other print and online publications. Learn more about Christopher Zoukis at christopherzoukis.com and prisoneducation.com.