For inmates, a letter can be a lifeline.

Mail can serve as their connection to the outside or be their means of processing legal paperwork, such as appeal proceedings.

But at State Correctional Institute Somerset, some prisoners are complaining about problems receiving and sending mail.

Superintendent’s Assistant Heidi Sroka said a number of inmates have filed grievances, saying their mail is delayed. Six inmates also have contacted The Tribune-Democrat about mail-related problems. They could not be reached for comment.

Sroka said the problems could be a result of one of two factors. The prison’s mailroom has been short-staffed lately, she said, but personnel should be caught up by now. “We had the situation under control by last week,” she said.

Also, she said mail seems to take longer than it should through the local post office.

State Corrections spokeswoman Sheila Moore said mail issues crop up from time to time at institutions statewide. Often, the sheer amount of mail can interfere with the process, she said. As of Sept. 30, 2,282 inmates are incarcerated at the medium-security prison in Somerset.

There is no problem on the part of the Somerset post office, said Rick Carey, acting supervisor.

“They get what mail we get for them on a daily basis,” he said. “There are no problems with our delivery.”

The inmates’ concerns are not unusual but should be taken seriously, said Bill DiMascio, Pennsylvania Prison Society executive director. The Philadelphia-based social justice organization advocates for inmates, former inmates and their families.

He said staffing changes or altered methods for handling mail create legitimate complications. But receiving and sending mail is a right that prisoners should not be deprived of, DiMascio added.

“They are human beings – brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers,” he said. “We can’t just let these people rot away.”

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