Pa. experimenting with tablets behind bars


Inside prison walls there are bars, cell blocks and soon there may also be electronic tablets for inmates.

A pilot program would let people incarcerated in Pennsylvania prisons buy the devices to listen to music, order commissary items and send email.

The experiment will begin at Pennsylvania correctional institutions, SCI Mahanoy and SCI Frackville. Inmates will be able to buy specialized tablets and use them to order commissary items, read and respond to email, and buy music.

Pennsylvania Prison Society Executive Director Ann Schwartzman said at a first glance she knows the tablet program may appear controversial, but she believes it is wonderful idea.

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“When we look at people who are serving time, 95 percent of them are going to come out one day and rejoin our neighborhoods,” Schwartzman said. “Most of the individuals come out basically computer illiterate. Having tablets in inside can actually help educate people so that they’re more ready to come out, be productive citizens, and get jobs.”

Susan Bensinger, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, agreed. She said since a majority of inmate 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.”

Bensinger pointed out that the tablets will not have Internet access in cells.  Any downloads as well as sending or receiving emails will happen when the inmate brings the tablet to a centrally-located kiosk. Bensinger also stressed that no taxpayer dollars will be involved in the initiative and that inmates will not be able to email random people. 

“The inmate needs to be able to have the funds to purchase the actual tablet and to pay for any additional incidentals that he wants to do with the tablet such as the purchase of songs or email.”

Schwartzman, from the Pennsylvania Prison Society, expressed concern about the additional financial burden the initiative could place on inmates’ families.

The pilot is slated to begin later this Spring.

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