In a few weeks, inmates locked up in the Jackson County jail will be able to communicate with the outside world through email. They, their loved ones, friends or other supporters will pay a small per-message fee with the vendor. It is the latest in a series of technological advances at the facility in the past year or so.

Jackson County Correctional Facility Chief Mark Foreman said the e-mail program will be deployed very soon, at no cost to taxpayers and at a minimal cost to the inmates or their email contacts.

The fee will be “cents” per message, Foreman said last week, but he did not immediately know the exact fee.

The county’s inmate welfare fund would receive a small portion of the fee as the host, with that money returned as a commission from the email-providing phone service vendor. Those proceeds will go to help fund quality-of-life enhancements for the incarcerated individuals, like satellite television, recreational equipment and other extras, Foreman said.

Last Tuesday, the jail had rolled out another aspect of enhanced opportunities for incarcerated individuals: A "telepsychiatry" program that pairs inmates with a counselor electronically. Inmates will not be charged for accessing this service.

Foreman said that new opportunity should increase inmate access to mental health services and reduce the time between the need being stated and the help being provided.

“Rather that counselors located in Panama City, for instance, having to travel 2.5 hours to do an on-site visit, or declining to offer their services because of that commute, they can talk through teleconferencing technology,” Foreman explained. The program is made possible through the jail’s contract with Life Management Services.

These enhancements are part of an overall initiative to take as much advantage of emerging technology as feasible, for the welfare of the inmates and the sake of efficiency in delivery of services to them, Foreman said.

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