New York State prisoners will now receive tablets:

Under a new state contract, all inmates in New York State prisons will receive free tablets.

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) is partnering with JPay, a company that specializes in inmate and corrections-related services. JPay is providing the tablets at no cost to the state or inmates, and DOCCS is not taking commissions for the tablets.

The tablets will be preloaded with educational content and DOCCS plans to make additional services available through the tablets, such as Prison Rape Elimination Act reporting, Grievance filing, and the potential for placing commissary orders.

According to DOCCS, JPay will get money from transactions that happen via the tablets (ebooks, music, videos). The tablets are only part of a larger contract with JPay who are also handling commissary and care packages sent from families to inmates.

The tablets will not be able to connect to the internet, but inmates will be able to use the tablets to purchase music, e-books, videos, and other entertainment. There will also be controlled kiosks where inmates can plug their tablet in to send emails to an approved list of recipients. Inmates will only have supervised access to the kiosks at scheduled times.

State corrections officials say they believe using the tablets will help inmates stay in touch with their families and be better prepared to reenter into the community.

The tablets have sparked debate since the program was announced. Many are critical of the program, but some say it can give inmates an opportunity to better adapt when they get out of prison.

Our policies aren’t just impacting those serving time, they’re impacting our whole culture. This change is a humane one. There’s no doubt that inmates will better adapt when they get out of prison if they have regular access to reading, entertainment, and communications while in prison. I’m thinking simply of the ability to write letters in one’s personal time, and then send those when connected to the internet at their permitted times. Just that alone seems worth this entire program, rather than forcing people to write out handwritten notes on loose leaf sheets.

It’s inconceivable that anyone could seriously be critical of this program, unless your sense is that American prisons should be more punitive than they already are.