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August 18, 2013

"Some prisons let inmates connect with tablets"

The title of this post is the headline of this new USA Today article, which provides an effective overview of one interesting recent technocorrections development.  The subheading of the piece is "Proponents say allowing inmates to use tablets will help reintegrate them into society and keep them from returning to jail." Here are excerpts:

Ohio became the latest state last month to allow inmates to purchase and use mini-tablet computers while incarcerated — a controversial move intended to better connect those in jail with their families and friends on the outside.

At least six other states, including North Dakota and Georgia, permit the practice, which proponents say will deepen prisoners' ties to their communities and keep them in sync with modern technology. "We have anticipation and hope to make it a good educational tool," said Ricky Seyfang, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Opponents are concerned the tablets will be used for illegal activities or brandished as weapons. "Our challenge is always how we give inmates the exposure to these tools while protecting public safety at the same time," said Douglas Smith III, chief information officer for the Florida Department of Corrections. Florida launched a pilot program last year to test Kindle devices for inmates.

Victims' rights groups say the devices make public safety increasingly difficult to achieve. Kristy Dyroff, director of communication at the National Organization for Victim Assistance, said there is the potential for "unrestricted and unsupervised outreach where inmates can revictimize or continue to intimidate victims."...

In the seven states that allow the tablets — Louisiana, Virginia, Michigan and Washington are the four others — inmates or their family members can purchase a $49.99 mini-tablet that allows them to send e-mails and listen to music, according to Tara Bertram, vice president of marketing at JPay, a mini-tablet vendor. The e-mails and any included attachments can be monitored by the state's department of corrections or the individual facility.

Jesse Jannetta, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, said expanded technology access in prisons could help inmates transition into their communities — and keep them there — if the devices are used to contact family and potential employers. "It can be hard to build connections to people or organizations they'll be interacting with," Jannetta said.

Jannetta and others caution that tablets, like cellphones, can also breed criminal activity.... "Prisons have trouble containing all sorts of things," said Robert Coombs, spokesman for the National Reentry Resource Center. "You're dealing with folks who probably want to break some rules."

JPay tries to minimize that risk by loading only limited functions, such as music and gaming, on to its tablets. The decision to allow the devices in prisons is made by state corrections departments, Bertram said.

Another vendor, Keefe Group, launched an MP3 player and music download service for prisoners in 2009. The service netted more than 1 million downloads a year after it was introduced, according to a news release on its website.

This month, Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler advocated for giving Android tablets to prisoners as a solution to close the "revolving door" of ex-offenders returning to jail. The Democratic gubernatorial hopeful said inmates would be allowed access to e-books, the state's library system, law resources and educational applications. Limited e-mail capability would also be offered.

That proposal could draw concern from taxpayers skeptical of investing more resources in jails. The average per-inmate cost a year is $31,286, ranging from $14,603 in Kentucky to $60,076 in New York, according to the Vera Institute, a research group focusing on justice systems. "When you're talking about buying individual pieces of technology and distributing them, it can be very controversial," Jannetta said.

As technology becomes increasingly embedded within society, some experts say its placement in more prisons is inevitable. "For us to expect inmates will possess the skills necessary to survive in the free world, we'll have to come to the realization they'll have to use these things," Smith said.

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August 18, 2013 at 09:28 AM | Permalink


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I have said before, great idea. Video addiction will decrease crime in prison as it has outside of prison.

Any intimidating or wrongful communication with witnesses, victims is covered by criminal laws. Punish the criminals after any violation, preferably with the lash, a cheap, and real punishment. If a prisoner fails to learn and dies from excessive lashing, so much the better. Immunize the lash. That is the correct remedy to misuse, not ending the entire program.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 18, 2013 3:19:54 PM

Of course, the presumption must be made that there is no way the tablets can be reprogrammed by savvy prisoners so that they can access the Internet, sex sites, and maybe even their victims. There IS no way this could happen...right?? I'm sure Bill Otis would agree...

Posted by: Eric Knight | Aug 18, 2013 5:35:27 PM

| In the seven states that allow the tablets .. inmates or their family members can purchase a $49.99 mini-tablet
that allows them to send e-mails and listen to music…
...Another vendor, Keefe Group, launched an MP3 player and music download service for prisoners in 2009.
The service netted more than 1 million downloads a year..."

I can assure guber-hopeful Gansler, based on experience with our jail teachers, that helping convicts keep cyber-current
will promote their entitlement mentality, and further convince them that the chance of being caught for their crime
is worth the risk.

Has Gansler interviewed those who work with criminal minds?

Providing cutting-edge luxuries in prison encourage America's prevalent ghetto culture which not only de-stigmatises incarceration, but glorifies it. Wake up!

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 19, 2013 1:32:25 PM

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