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NC Prisons Offer More Options To Send Inmates Money, But For A Fee

People who want to send money to inmates in North Carolina prisons now have more options. But, the new choices come with a price.

Until this month, prisoners’ friends and relatives had only one option for sending money: mailing money orders directly to the prison. Inmates can use the money to buy snacks, stamps, toiletries, and small items including watches and radios. The state’s 66 prisons received more than 600,000 money orders last year. Department of Public Safety spokesman Keith Acree says this was overwhelming mailroom staff.

“It’s really not their primary duty. Their primary duty is to be screening, managing, and delivering the mail," he explains, "and that provides a valuable security service to us in the prison system to make sure that things are not coming through the mail that shouldn’t be.” 

Enter JPay. The Florida company lets people send money to inmates using a computer, smartphone app, or automated phone system. The company says in some cases the money is available to the prisoners by the next business day.  But, that convenience comes at a price - from $3.45 for an online transaction of up to $20, to $11.65 for a phone transaction of over $200. JPay will also take payments from MoneyGram locations in some pharmacies for a flat fee of $6.70. The state gets a 25-cent cut from each payment.

Mavis Moore has been mailing money orders to her son in Raleigh’s Central Prison for more than 13 years.

“A lot of times I try to send $50, $60, $70…what you can…$100,” she says.

She’s a single mother, so she says it’s better for her budget to send smaller amounts more frequently, usually 2 or 3 times a month. She doesn’t think the JPay fees are worth the extra convenience.

“I’ll stick with mailing the money order rather than giving them extra money," she says. "Why should I give them extra money when my son could have it?”

JPay will not charge any fees to process money orders, but Moore and others like her now have to mail them to JPay in Florida, rather than directly to the prison. She says i, the past, it’s only taken a couple of days for her son to get the money. Moore worries that mailing the money orders to Florida will slow that down.

Getting the word out about JPay has been slow. The Department of Public Safety says it has no way to directly notify family and friends of inmates of the change, so it’s relying on the state’s more than 35,000 prisoners to see posters and flyers it’s put up and pass the information along.

Mavis Moore hadn’t heard about JPay until Thursday, when a legal aid service she’s used called her on WFAE's behalf for this story.