Who's writing...and why?
Prisoners write profiles to these 'pen pal' and 'dating' websites to fight the byproducts of incarceration-- isolation and loneliness, hopelessness and boredom.
"The people you interact with, you don't have a choice with who they are or when can interact with them," Abe Medaris, a psychiatrist at St. Anthony's. "There's anxiety, irritability, frustration."
The question remains...why do people feel compelled to write to prisoners?
Dr. Medaris says people often write to feel in control.
"I don't have to wonder what's possible, I already know what that person is capable of doing, number one," Medaris said. "And then number two, I already know that person is incarcerated so I can enjoy all the benefits, they're going to be very pleasant with me, I'm interacting with them, so all the exchanges I have with them are positive."
Websites like InmateMingle and WriteAPrisoner states the services provide prisoners with moral support.
Crime victim advocates say 95 percent of state prison inmates will eventually get out, and creating strong relationships (like marriage) on the outside can help reduce recidivism rates.
Inmates in the state of Missouri are not allowed access to the internet, so these websites are usually heard through fellow prisoners or publications with advertisements shared in the prisons.
Prisoners then send letters to these sites with what they want on their profile, photos and some money.
Drag the toggle in the middle to the left and right to see Kohut's 'dating' profile v. mugshot
Very few states have any laws that regulate how inmates use the internet.
In 2007, a ban was put into place in Missouri to protect the public against mail and romance scams that were being run by inmates.
"You have a group of largely criminal individuals with a lot of time on their hands, and they can be fairly creative," Medaris said. "They can't use those skills on one another because they're all adept and understand them. The only outlet they have then is through the mail."
Letter from Missouri inmate upset with the ban
Inmates who continue to use sites will receive prison conduct violations, which could land them in segregation cells or limited time on the phone, recreation or other privileges.