The West Virginia Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in collaboration with the Global Tel Link Corporation, is making electronic tablets available to prisoners at no cost to taxpayers. The tablets are ostensibly for entertainment, education and video visitations.
The knee-jerk reaction may be to reject this idea outright — incarcerated people are there as punishment and shouldn't have access to many of the comforts of home.
We reject this idea — there are many reasons to allow prisoners access to educational resources and outside media. Recidivism is a clear and present problem in our state and around the country. Prison should be a place of rehabilitation, education and healing, a place where, at the end of their sentence, an inmate is released with a new understanding and outlook on life, sees the errors of the lifestyle that led them to prison, and becomes a valuable addition to society. Without outside influence or access to education, this is not a scenario that would be possible. Left to their own devices, prisoners are more likely to leave prison and enter the same circumstances they came from, which increases the likelihood that they will be back in prison by a significant amount.
There is, however, a much better reason these tablets should cause concern — GTL.
GTL is one of the dominant prison phone companies in the United States, and it along with Securus, another prison phone company, have both moved into the video business. West Virginia is not the first state to partner with one of these companies to bring tablets to prisoners. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, these contracts present a lot of problems, which mostly boil down to a private company profiting off the backs of people incarcerated.
The “free” tablets charge users for everything, and they charge more than what a normal service provider would charge. Rates for phone calls and video chats are above market-price, and it some cases it costs 35 cents just to send an email.
Many of the contracts also allow the tablet company to alter the prices of these services without the state's permission or terminate the program if the tablets aren't profitable enough.
Perhaps most alarmingly, most of these contracts, such as the ones in Missouri, New York, South Dakota and Indiana, guarantee a portion of the revenue from these overpriced tablets goes back to the state. So the taxpayers aren't paying for this program — but the impoverished families of those in prison are, and the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation might be making a profit.
The United States already has one of the largest prison systems in the world, and there seem to be no shortage of corporations willing to profit off people behind bars — many of whom may be falsely imprisoned or serving for non-violent crimes, and almost all of whom were already in poverty before going to prison.
This is the opposite of justice. This is antithetical to correction or rehabilitation — it's predatory.