Pennsylvania plans experimental program to allow inmates computer tablets
A pilot program in Pennsylvania's prisons could revolutionize how inmates spend their time and interact with the outside world, but the union representing corrections officers fears it could become a tool for illicit activity.
The state's Department of Corrections plans to make customized computer tablets available for inmates at two prisons in Schuylkill County by late spring, giving them access to email, music, their commissary account and potentially other services, DOC spokeswoman Susan Bensinger said.
If the test goes well, inmates in prisons across the state could be using tablets by the end of the year.
“We feel it's very attractive to be using that type of technology inside the jail,” Bensinger said. “As 90 percent of the inmates will be returning to the community, isolating them from technology is not in line with the efforts to reduce recidivism. Many challenges are faced when they return, and using technology is one of the problems.”
Inmates are supposed to be punished while in prison, not rewarded with electronic devices, said State Rep. Darryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry.
“There are a lot of folks out there who can't afford a laptop or a computer or a tablet and here you are going to give access to prisoners in their cells? It's an outrageous proposal and one that the administration should slap down very quickly,” Metcalfe said.
Gov. Tom Corbett's office did not return calls for comment.
The tablets won't have wireless Internet capability that comes standard on similar devices bought at retail stores. Instead, inmates would plug in at a central kiosk to get limited Internet access.
Email and any attachments can be monitored by the Department of Corrections or the prison, Bensinger said.
Jason Bloom, vice president of the Pennsylvania Corrections Officers Association, said the union has “real security concerns” about the devices.
“While the department claims they won't be Wi-Fi capable, we all know inmates can overcome security protocols,” Bloom said. “The potential risks don't justify the taxpayer expense.”
The tablets would cost taxpayers nothing, Bensinger said. They would be paid for by inmates or their families. Each inmate would have the opportunity to purchase a tablet, except those in restricted housing units for disciplinary or other reasons.
The goal is to increase security by reducing the number of radios that inmates possess, which are large, have many parts and can be used to conceal contraband, Bensinger said. Prison officials won't remove radios from inmates who already have them, but they may be phased out.
“As with everything we do, security is our No. 1 concern,” Bensinger said.
Mark Capozza, superintendent of the state prison in Woods Run, said his security concerns are low. Most inmates already have televisions, he said.
“It's not a device that's anything more of a concern than inmates already have access to,” Capozza said.
Prison officials are waiting for the prototype before they sign a contract, Bensinger said. At least two companies submitted proposals, she said.
Seven states — Louisiana, Virginia, Michigan, Washington, North Dakota, Georgia and Ohio — allow inmates or their family members to buy tablets for use inside the prison walls. Those tablets, through e-commerce company JPay, cost $49.99. The downloadable content costs between 80 cents and $1.50.
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reachedat 412-391-0927 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- ‘Tomato King’ Procacci seeks control of Lawrence Downs racino project
- Businesses brace for papal crowds
- Casey, Coons become 32nd, 33rd senators to back nuclear deal with Iran
- Retired LCB official, expected to plead guilty to kickbacks, stands to lose $52K pension
- Pennsylvania welfare employees targeted in crackdown
- Grieving pet owners find loving support in Pennsylvania group
- Potential suspension of Pennsylvania AG’s license unusual
- State’s high court rules in favor of turnpike worker, will get another chance to prove his firing violated whistlebower laws
- Bishop’s ex-assistant in Venango charged with Lutheran synod thefts
- Judge OKs gender surgery for 48-year-old called mentally incompetent by parents
- Pa. welfare workers threatened with firings over financial forms