Email a Prisoner

By John Roberts, from insidetime issue September 2008

Inside Timeís Operations Director John Roberts highlights a former prisonerís innovative business venture and agrees to help him expand the service.

Email a Prisoner

In the few years since his release, Derek Jones has invested a great deal of time and every penny he could scrape together setting up a business that he clearly is passionate about. He has desperately been trying to change the attitude of HMPS towards a basic email system that enables prisoners to at least receive emails and it has, to say the least, proved to be a major uphill struggle. Resources have always been very limited and it is only through sheer determination, belief and hard work that he has managed to make the degree of progress that he has. He now has twenty-three prisons on board and all are very pleased with the service.

We were impressed with what Derek has achieved so far and, hearing of his commitment to operate the business on a ‘not for profit’ basis, Inside Time has decided to put its weight behind promoting the project and providing the extra support needed. The aim of this collaboration is to encourage and increase the use of the service within the 23 prisons currently involved, and to promote the service in prisons where it is yet to be made available.

The service

Using a simple online account an email of 2–2,500 characters (approx 500 words) can be sent via and within minutes it arrives on a dedicated prison fax machine or in the inbox of special prison email address. It is then simply printed off, sealed and delivered along with ordinary prisoners’ mail. To avoid misuse, and for technical reasons, it is necessary to limit the length of the message to a maximum of one side of A4.

Families and Friends

For anyone writing a letter to a prisoner this provides an instant service that can be sent any time of the day or night and without the need to leave the house. Anyone on holiday or without a PC at home can use the email service of the local library or internet cafe.

With no paper, envelope or stamp required it is a fraction of the cost of Royal Mail’s first class service and of course never subject to postal delays or strikes.


For any legal representative, the service offers the opportunity to provide that ‘all important’ instant response to a prisoner’s initial enquiry, notification of a visit or a vital update on an ongoing case.

Email a Prisoner currently operates an inbound e mail service in HMPs:

Ashfield, Blantyre House, Bronzefield, Canterbury, Channings Wood, Chelmsford, East Sutton Park, Erlestoke, Full Sutton, Guys Marsh, Leeds, Leyhill, Liverpool, Maidstone, New Hall, Portland, Reading, Rochester, The Verne, Wealstun, Winchester, Wolds, Woodhill.


Currently the price is 25p per message which, whilst 35-40% cheaper than the cost of a 1st class letter, will get even cheaper as more and more prisons adopt the service. A significant part of the operating costs comes from the external processing website host, but these will reduce as the volume, currently 1,200 messages a week, increases. We anticipate being able to reduce the price to 20p by the end of the year if the take up proves as good as we hope.

Two charities involved in support for prisoners and their families will be receiving at least 10% of all income generated from increased usage. It is perhaps worth reiterating this is not 10% of profit this is 10% of income so they will be very worthwhile donations.

Sadly, some prisons currently using the system have insisted that stationery and ink cartridges, and in some cases even the printers to receive the messages, are all provided free of charge to them by the Company. These costs of course have unfortunately then had to be factored into the price of the messages, which means that families are paying more than should be necessary. Thankfully, the majority of the prisons do not make these demands; having fully recognised the gains they get from a mail system that is very much simplified by this service.

They have been quick to identify the advantages whereby censors needing to read a letter can do so much more quickly when it is clearly typed and not handwritten, and they appreciate that with no requirement to check for illegal substances, the process is much better and saves them time and money.


Families and friends of prisoners in one of the 23 prisons named:
Go to and open an account online. You can pay by credit/debit card or Paypal and top up with £5 or more on a ‘pay as you go’ basis.


We recommend the service to our solicitor advertisers if only to give the standard acknowledgment to all enquiries received. An immediate acknowledgment is the first step for any good legal service provider and this is the fastest, simplest and most cost effective method available. We expect that once it is used for this purpose it will prove to be far more useful to them overall.



If you are in a prison that doesn’t offer the service, tell your personal officer about it and he / she will look into it for you.

If you are in one of the 23 prisons with the service, let your families and friends know about it so that they can start saving money and/or afford to write more often. The more people using it, the cheaper the service becomes in the future.


Hopefully, all Prison Governors reading this article will discuss it with colleagues and immediately recognise the benefits to their establishment. Apart from the improved security that comes with any email service, regular communication between prisoners and their loved ones outside removes tension and can avoid problems on the wings.

Even if it is necessary for a prison to apply a charge for any consumables or equipment, it is better than not having the service at all. However we trust that before deciding to make any charges, full consideration will be given by those controlling the budget to offset the nominal costs of toner and paper against the significant savings that will be made in the censoring and handling of incoming conventional mail. Any charges made by HMPS will of course prevent the service from becoming cheaper for the users.

We hope Governors and Prison Managers will decide to approve this service in their respective establishments and contact:-

Derek Jones
62 Bradford Park
Combe Down
Bath BA2 5PS
08700 429351


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Comments about this article

20/5/2010 jo mercer

Thankyou for creating this website it truley is admirable and selfless being non profit.
I was devastated when my dad was sentenced and the very same day I was informed by the prisoners visiting centre staff that I could email my dad it is easy to use and gets there straight away.
I am grateful for this site and was dreading using the Royal Mail now I dont have to!

12/9/2010 shirley morris -

my son was recently transferred to the Uk from a prison in ghana where he survived 6 years 7 months privation the conditions were dreadful. İ had very little contact with him during this time and was constantly worrying. İ dont live in the Uk and although i have managed to see him last month i still will be unable to visit as much as i would like. This email system is a godsend for means he knows how i am and i can fill him in with many of the details of family he has missed and i can keep his morale going.i could go on and on for this truly is a wonderful humanitarian service for those of us in this position i can't praise and thank you enough

2/11/2010 susan smith -

This is a brilliant service that is so so easy to use. I can messages to my love one so quickly. All prisons should make this avialble as its so important for prisoners to have contact with thir friends and family. Prisoners friends and famiy suffer as well when their love ones are inside.

5/12/2010 claire blyth -

I was so happy to realise i could email my partner as i miss him so so much,and for him to receive emails from me made his day,this is a brilliant service and all prisons should do it as its so much easier,quicker and cheaper.

30/5/2011 jackie -

can i send photos with a email,if so would it cost more,it would be lovely if i could.

20/2/2012 keith lloyd-jones -

absolutely fantastic service my brother is serving 2 years and i send emails 2/3 times a week without even leaving the house keeping him up to date with the latest news and gossip.thank you

6/9/2012 Amelia -

Can I pay by paypal?

Post a comment

This article appears under the following categories...
Prison Conditions

Summary of headlines for September 2008
Empty Courts Ė Full Prisons
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Yoga rocks
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A service with offenders in mind
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If it was left to me
What prison is really like
Who guards the guards?
This Way Up
Lags and Wags
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Barry George: A likely candidate
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An illegal immigrant from Russia served the Queen tea.
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What It Feels Like ... to be a Prisoner at GuantŠnamo Bay
Book Review..On The Edge: My Story - By Richard Hammond
Book Review...The Murder of Billie-Jo - By Sion Jenkins & Bob Woffinden
Book Review...Child C - By Christopher Spry

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