WASHINGTON — Roberta Roper has lived through the horrific reality of her daughter's brutal murder in an abandoned Maryland farmhouse.
Now, 30 years later, Roper is face-to-face with the imprisoned killer -- this time, by way of a third-party website that helps prisoners attract contact with the outside world.
"I find it downright offensive," Roper said. "It compounds everything (victims) have to endure."
Jerry Lee Beatty, convicted of murdering Stephanie Roper in 1982, is one of thousands of prisoners whose profiles are featured on websites such as VoiceForInmates.com, GoodPrisoner.com and WriteAPrisoner.com. The pen-pal sites charge an annual fee, from $15 to $60, to host an inmate's profile. Pen pals discover the prisoners online, and correspondence is sent via mail.
Adam Lovell, president of WriteAPrisoner.com, says his website offers prisoners hope and society a better chance for reduced recidivism and better-behaved criminals.
"I really am asking for a second chance my family has either died or left me after 25 years of imprisonment," says Beatty's profile message on VoiceForInmates.com. "I need finances for attorneys, art supplies, and some everyday essentials."
Legal debate over the extent to which inmates should be allowed to communicate through the use of social networking websites has surfaced in several states. Laws in Florida, Indiana and Missouri, for example, ban the use of pen-pal websites to solicit communication for inmates, citing the potential for abuse and fraud.
Despite the pushback in some states, Lovell said, the market for such websites is becoming crowded by start-ups that see the sites as potential moneymakers.
"I've seen dozens of these websites pop-up and go away," Lovell said. "People think they're going to make a lot of money on these things."