New York state officials plan to provide every inmate with a free computer tablet, sparking a mix of praise and criticism.
Approximately 51,000 inmates in 54 prisons will be eligible to receive a tablet, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) according to AP. The devices are being provided to the state by Miami-based JPay Inc. and will reportedly not encumber taxpayers with any costs.
Acting Commissioner Annucci: in a groundbreaking move the Department will provide each incarcerated individual a tablet, at no cost, with the ability to access free educational material and eBooks and to file grievances
— NYS DOCCS (@NYSDOCCS) 30 stycznia 2018
Deputy Terence Belcher of the WYCO correctional facility, where the devices have been in use for some time as part of a pilot initiative, hails the program for its range of benefits to both staff and inmates, KMBC reported,
“It makes our job a lot easier,” Belcher told the station, explaining that access to the devices is conditional on good behavior.
“They hate being in their rooms without a tablet,” Belcher said.
Since their deployment at the facility in June, 2017, disciplinary problems have dropped, and the prison has seen a reduction in violence.
According to the deputy, inmate participation in educational programs has increased because they can now be delivered via tablets with a reward mechanism.
“Once they’ve completed those programs, they get points,” Belcher said, and by this means inmates unlock rewards like music or movies.
He said this advances the aim of successfully resocializing prisoners.
Acting DOCCS Commissioner Anthony Annucci announced the tablet program Tuesday, Jan. 30 during a state budget hearing, AP reported.
The company JPay will give the tablets away for free, and will make money if inmates buy approved music, e-books and videos via the tablets, and on processing fees for funds transfers to prisoners.
DOCCS officials said the tablets will have educational material on them and can be used to send and receive emails, but will not have access to the internet.
But the initiative is facing a backlash from those who believe that there may be hidden costs to taxpayers.
“The taxpayers are paying for it somewhere. Whether it be the upkeep of these tablets, the power to charge them. We are paying somewhere,” wrote @joe_nemesis in a Twitter comment on the NYS DOCCS post announcing the program.
“This is an absolute joke. Can’t supply schools with free tablets, but we can give them to inmates. I’m embarrassed to live in NY,” the same commenter added.
Such comments are indicative of broader complaints by those that see the tablets as a frill in prisons, while necessities in other areas, like schools, are unavailable.
But officials stress the agreement costs nothing to taxpayers and the state will not get a cut from any inmate purchases.
Clarification on the new tablet initiative at DOCCS. pic.twitter.com/bRv9asGTYh
— NYS DOCCS (@NYSDOCCS) 31 stycznia 2018
There are similar programs are up and running in other counties across the U.S.