116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
People sending mail to Iowa prisoners will wait longer for their loved ones to receive it since the Iowa Department of Corrections hired a Las Vegas company to process mail.
The state decided to outsource personal mail processing to Pigeonly Corrections after an increase in contraband, including drugs, coming into the state prisons through mail.
But some family and friends worry the new service will deter correspondence that helps keep incarcerated people stay connected to the outside world.
“Pigeonly does delay mail,” Mindy Campbell, who has a loved one at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, said in an email to The Gazette.
“The service that one can subscribe to has taken, in my experience, five to seven days just to print the items I have submitted. Then they mail from Las Vegas. Then the (prison) mail room still has to go through everything to make sure it’s approved.”
Campbell said she is concerned the state is working with a company that has an F grade with the Better Business Bureau for having more than 230 complaints, including many alleging fraudulent billing through an optional subscriber service.
“I personally had my credit card charged nine times in seven days totaling a little under $300,” she said.
Starting this week, family and friends who want to send personal mail — letters, greeting cards, postcards — must sent it to Pigeonly’s headquarters in Las Vegas. Pigeonly will scan the mail and make color copies. The company will physically mail the copies to each of Iowa’s nine prisons.
People who create an account with Pigeonly may create and send digital letters, photos, cards and web articles. They can send one letter and one postcard per month for free or upgrade to unlimited correspondence for $9.99 a month, Frederick Hutson, a Pigeonly founder, told The Gazette Friday.
“We’ve been in business close to 10 years now,” he said. “When it comes to any consumer business, it’s impossible to have a perfect review record. For any negative review as we have, we have just as many or more positive reviews. Our focus is always to resolve any complaint or concern we come across.”
The state will pay Pigeonly 42 cents per piece of mail processed, which at about 1,800 piece of mail per day, is more than $275,000 a year, according to a contract that goes through Feb. 27, 2024.
Corrections Spokesman Nick Crawford said the agency signed the deal in May to “curb the introduction of contraband into our facilities through the non-legal mail process.”
The prison system is particularly concerned about drugs, including Suboxone and K2, coming into the prisons through the mail. These drugs, contained on small strips, can be smuggled in under postage stamps, stickers or tape, according to Corrections1, a website for corrections-based information.
“This new process will safeguard our institutions, staff, and inmates by significantly reducing the opportunity for those who look to introduce K2, and other contraband, into Iowa’s correctional facilities,” Crawford said in an email.
The Corrections Department still will receive and process mail from offenders’ lawyers; official documents, such as driver’s licenses, welfare cards and checks; and printed materials sent directly from a publisher or commercial dealer, such as magazines and paperback books.
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