I have written before about how US prison systems are being used to squeeze prisoners and their families for money, by forcing them to use services provided by private for-profit companies for things that could be done far more cheaply using standard methods. One system is to force families to send letters and cards and photographs to prisoners only through dedicated electronic means that are far more expensive than the postal service. Another is forcing prisoners to buy music only through their expensive dedicated systems and players. The prisons get a cut of the revenues.
Now comes yet another such scheme. I, like many others, have sent books to prisoners as a way of making their confinement less miserable and you would think that a prison system would welcome this as part of the rehabilitation process. But Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections is taking away the ability for people to send free books to prisoners.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections is planning to ban free book donations to inmates by mail, claiming that this is a “primary avenue for drugs” to enter prisons. But the move coincides with a renewed push to get prisoners buying into a pricey prison eBook system that offers low-end tablets for $150 and eBooks no cheaper than $3 a read.
“Effective immediately, the DOC will begin to transition to ebooks coupled with bolstered DOC library system featuring centralized purchasing and ordering process,” the DOC announced at its website. “No books or publications will be shipped directly to an inmate. … [we] will no longer accept books donated directly to individual inmates.”
The tablet devices hawked by the DOC are bulky and low-end, with tiny low-definition color displays not intended for reading at length, rudimentary hardware and translucent materials to prevent them being used to hide contraband. They cost $147 plus tax, about three times the price of the only extant consumer device, the $50 Amazon Fire, with similar specifications. There is no repair service: any problems with the device and you have to buy a new one.
The rationale that the old book donation system was being used to transmit drugs, let alone that it was the ‘primary avenue’ for doing so, is palpably bogus. Every package sent to a prisoner is checked and it would be the easiest thing in the world to ensure that a book does not contain drugs.
The US has to be the world leader in finding new ways to use the legal system squeeze poor people and prisoners for money. It is little wonder that it has the highest incarceration rates in the world, by a huge margin. It is an utter disgrace.