If you have a loved one in prison and want to contact them, generally you are allowed to call, email, or video chat with them. The only problem is prisons can charge a fortune for these services, leaving physical mail as the best and sometimes the only option for people behind bars.
But mail comes with its own problems. If you send a letter, there is a very real chance that it will never reach its intended recipient. The letter you’re sending may violate the prison facility’s mail rules, which can dictate everything from acceptable paper sizes to what the writing implements. Mails can be censored too.
To help make it easier for people to successfully send letters to inmates, British-American entrepreneur Josh Browder has designed a “robot lawyer” that automates much of the letter-sending process. All you have to do is write your message, and it takes care of the rest.
The robot lawyer is actually an AI-powered app called DoNotPay. Browder had designed it as a teenager as a way to help people get out of parking tickets — they answer questions asked by the app’s chatbot and snap a picture of their ticket, and it writes up an appeal letter for them. In the five years since DoNotPay’s launch, Browder has added a number of features to the robot lawyer — it can now help people dispute evictions, cancel subscriptions, and navigate small-claims court, all for a $3 monthly fee.
Now DoNotPay has a built-in mail feature that helps people connect to incarcerated loved ones. So, how does it work? A user starts by entering the name of the person they want to contact in the app’s search tool. The robot lawyer then scans the roster of inmates in federal, state, county, or ICE detention centers, all at once — no need to go to a specific facility’s website to find the address. The user then chooses the design they want for the letter and writes their message.
DoNotPay does not read the contents of the letter, Browder told Vice. Once you’ve written your message, DoNotPay then prints the letter, following the facility’s specifications, and mails it to the inmate along with the postage they need to send a letter back to the original writer. Best of all, there’s no additional cost for using this feature.