A government agency in West Virginia, which manages state prisons there, has been targeted for a questionable deal with a private multimedia tablet provider. Civil rights organizations accuse the West Virginia Corrections and Rehabilitation Division of being robbed for charging retail prices for their tablets. The devices are initially distributed free of charge to prisoners in ten state prisons.
Both the Appalachian Prison Book Project and the association of American authors PEN are particularly offended by the fact that reading e-books costs 5 cents per minute. The price is temporarily reduced to three cents for the introduction, but the books that are offered through the system of the provider Global Tel Link (GTL) all come from the website of the Gutenberg Project and are therefore actually free. The project puts online e-books of public domain works in the United States.
James Tager, head of free speech issues at the PEN association, criticizes the fact that the state charges inmates inmates access to free books and also earns part of the revenue from the contract. “It is not only a predatory policy that will actively prevent prisoners from reading, but it also rewards the state for making itself an accomplice,” Tager said in a press release.
Possible cost trap for prisoners and families
The Appalachian Book Project, which campaigns for the education and reading of inmate support and books donations to prison libraries, calculates in a statement that the average hourly wages of West Virginia prisoners for their assignments are between four and 58 cents behind bars. On the other hand, the prices for the various functions of the tablets are almost horrendous: for the music, the games and the e-books, the five or three cents per minute mentioned, the video calls with relatives cost as much as 25 cents per minute. Each digital message sent in the provider’s closed chat system also costs a quarter of a dollar.
Such systems for contacting family members are no longer rare in US prisons where there is no open Internet access. Such as wired reported last year, these systems often result in cost traps for prisoners or their families and are even supposed to replace actual visits.
Profitable collaborations in many states
In front of the news site reason A spokesman for the WVDCR simply stated that no inmates were forced to use tablets and that the agency’s five percent commission was used for TV and visits for prisoners. Also, there are no restrictions on printed books.
Such restrictions had already existed in the past: incidentally, books printed in Pennsylvania had been banned from prisons in 2018 to be replaced by GTL tablets. The state had to withdraw the regulation after the protests. There are profitable collaborations similar to those of West Virginia in many other states; Another well-known prisoner multimedia service provider is JPay, which offers MP3 players in Florida prisons, for example, and earns millions of commissions from the state. The state of Florida had been sued by a detainee earlier this year for prison authorities who confiscated the older prisoners’ equipment and files without compensation when they moved to JPay.