MOSCOW -- Got a loved one languishing in a Russian jail and just wish you could send them an emoticon, text, or photo via your smartphone?
Well, you're in luck.
Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service this month launched an application for smartphones that allows users to send messages and pictures to inmates held in custody.
Provided the communiques pass censorship at correction facilities, they are printed and handed to inmates within the space of three days.
Aleksandr Polkin of Moscow detention center No. 5 told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency that the smartphone application is "unique" and has no peers in the world. Either a one-page letter containing up to 1,000 symbols or a photograph can be sent for less than $1.
The application is called FSIN Pismo (Federal Penitentiary Service Letter) and is available for iOS and Android smartphones. It has already delivered more than 180,000 messages.
FSIN Pismo, which has a logo similar to the Russian Postal Service, began a test phase in St. Petersburg's Kresty and Moscow's Vodnik pretrial-detention centers at the beginning of this month. It will soon be offered in correction facilities across the country.
The idea for the application reportedly evolved out of a previous service, initiated in 2008 that allowed users to send e-mail messages to inmates. Polkin said the authorities noticed that 30 percent of the messages sent to the inmates came from smartphones, sparking the idea for the application.
FSIN Pismo is not the only online prison service offered for the families of inmates. The FSIN Zakaz
service allows Russians to buy groceries for those in custody.
Russia's tech-savvy urban professional classes have embraced smartphone technology with gusto.
In October, a group of young entrepreneurs unveiled an application called Bribr that allows Russians to log bribes on a nationwide database
. It has since registered 11.46 million rubles ($372,000) in bribes.
-- Tom Balmforth