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DL100 Winners, “Email A Prisoner” tells how a small idea from an ex-offender created its international award-winning business.

Written by Francis Toye, Founder of Unilink

You cannot just email a prisoner.  Hence what prisoners find hard is keeping in touch with their loved ones.  To get a better hope of rehabilitation, contact with friends and family is a vital ingredient. The idea from “Email a Prisoner” came from Derek Jones, a former offender, who, cut-off in prison from his family, thought up an acceptable way to deliver messages rapidly into prison.  Prisoners have no Internet access and post is slow but by entering information onto a website the “Email A Prisoner” team ensure that the messages get securely delivered and either printed or delivered to self-service kiosks and has over 250,000 regular users.

The service, which is secure, has now been enhanced enabling messages to be handwritten and scanned back to the sender or in some privately run prisons they are delivered to prisoner self-service accounts where short replies are possible.

It is almost a cliché but it is the focus on the users that has made what is a good service great i.e.  software that “does what it says on the tin” combined with a friendly and patient help desk who really like to look after their users; many of whom are using the web for the first time.

But it is the users’ comments that really tell:

“I’ve personally been OK until my first visit only last week and the first time I’ve visited a prison in my life. Whilst the numpty seems extremely well, the day after I broke down completely and have not been right since. Letters have come and gone via snail mail and only on Sunday did he manage to get through on the phone in all these weeks. It’s been a painfully long, tearful and dismal time and this last week I’m dreading, for it seems time has now stopped.

 Letters have been massively important but as I said slow. Again it was only at the weekend I found out about the email a prisoner service. I can’t begin to tell you how much of a godsend I’ve found it to be. To just be able to instantly send a few lines or even just 3 words when they have to be said and heard (although Mr don’t do technology) I’ve personally found hugely helpful and it’s been the main factor the last few days in dragging me back up and getting some kind of composure of myself and Mr’s spirits are lifted too.”

That is what our team deal with every day.

So winning the DL100 Overall Winner’s Award is massively helpful to us.  The service is expanding internationally and in the UK.  Replies are increasing, especially where they are electronic as in HMP Kilmarnock.  In the Netherlands the service has been adopted in all their prisons.  Australia has begun taking both the email a prisoner and the secure money transfer services.  So from a small idea from an ex-offender an international award-winning business has been born.

Francis Toye is the Founder of Unilink which is the owner of ‘Email a Prisoner’

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