New York inmates to get free tablets
ALBANY, NY — The 53,000 inmates serving time in New York State prisons will soon be getting free digital tablets, according to an announcement from Anthony Annucci, acting commissioner of the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Annucci made the announcement on January 31 and said the tablets would come with some built-in educational programs but would not be hooked up to the Internet.
Annucci said taxpayers would not pay anything for the tablets, which would be provided free of charge by a company called JPay that deals in prison services. The inmates would not pay for the tablets, but if they wanted to receive material that does not come preloaded, the inmate could purchase it.
Annucci said in a tweet, “JPay will get paid if an inmate chooses to purchase, with their own money, other approved material for the tablet.” JPay will also be paid if the inmate wants to use the table to send emails. In other states where JPay provides inmates with tablets, the company has charged from $.35 to $.45 cents for each email, which the company has defended as being comparable to the price of a first-class postage stamp.
In a statement, JPay said the ability to communicate with the outside world provides benefits. The company said, “Research shows that frequent communication with friends and family is proven to lower the rate of recidivism.”
The inmates will connect to email services and access to ebooks and music and other materials through kiosks installed in the prison, again by JPay at no cost to taxpayers. In some states, JPay also serves as a prison banker, and, according to various news reports, has charged hefty fees—in the past up to 35%—to transfer funds from a family member to an inmate. In other states, the state sometimes gets a percentage of that fee. In New York, Annucci said that the state will not receive any portion of the fees, which will go entirely to JPay.
Even though there is no taxpayer money involved, and any profit generated for JPay will come from inmates and/or their families, some state lawmakers have criticized the development. This was the reaction from Assemblyman Clifford W. Crouch: “I am disgusted that such an initiative would even be imagined. Prisoners are serving sentences for crimes they committed against society; we should not be giving them gifts that will make their time served easier. This initiative doesn’t even factor in what crimes the inmates committed, so are we going to be giving tablets to murderers and others who have committed violent crimes?”
Assemblyman Steve Hawley also issued a statement, saying, “If it’s this easy to encourage vendors to provide free tablets to inmates, why aren’t they being provided to our students in disadvantaged school districts or to libraries across the state as a community resource? I suppose crime does pay, especially if you live in New York.”
The New York initiative is followed by programs that JPay has established in many other states. According to a story from 2015 reported in the online publication Kiosk News (tinyurl.com/y9gxbaw9) “The company’s various services are now offered at over 1,200 facilities in 34 states, ranging from low-security outfits to supermax prisons. In 2014, inmates sent over 14.2 million emails and 650,000 mobile payments through JPay’s systems.” In 2018, 54 prisons from New York State will be signing adding to the number of transactions.