8,000 prison inmates in Colorado have been given computer tablets with the ability to call loved ones from the inside, play games, read books, and listen to music.
“Until February, Andrew Stiern could only speak with his girlfriend on a phone in a prison day hall while 10 other inmates listened in and waited impatiently in line behind him,” reported The Denver Post . “Now the 29-year-old inmate can kick back in the limited privacy of his cell at Four Mile Correctional Center in Cañon City and call his girl on a new computer tablet anytime between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. He can also use the same device to listen to his favorite tunes from a streaming cache of 12 million songs, read books or play video games to his heart’s content.”
GTL Corp’s Inspire pilot program seeks to distribute tablets to over 18,000 prison inmates, and eventually to every prisoner in the United States, according to The Denver Post. It is reportedly “designed to give inmates access to a wide range of media, including educational programming, but also creates a new revenue stream for GTL, which specializes in inmate telecommunications and payment systems.”
“It’s great. I’m kind of the tablet rep guy,” said inmate Andrew Stiern to The Post. “When you are in prison, you are cut off from the outside world. You want your mind to be focused on positive things. It’s kind of an escape from this world. These tabs have become a new piece of life in here.”
Though some believe that the tablets could help deflate friction between prison gangs over prison phone use, other correctional officers and victims group representatives are skeptical of the program.
“I’m a little stunned. They are not there to be catered to and offered all the comforts of home,” said Rob Wells, the president of Families of Victims of Homicide and Missing Persons. “I’m not pleased with it. Some of them are gang members and have been involved in some pretty nasty stuff. They shouldn’t be given something that will give them an opportunity to continue their criminal enterprises in prison. How are they going to monitor this?”
“All of us had our reservations at first. Are we going to be more vulnerable because of this technology?” asked corrections officer Ryan Flores. “There was a lot of old school mentality.”
Though GTL are giving out the tablets free-of-charge to prisoners, there is a potential profit to be made through their use.
A two-month subscription for one prisoner to access a database of music and games costs $6.59, while text messages are 25 cents each. A 20-minute phone call costs around $2 to $3.
As well as entertainment and education, the tablets can also be used to file complaints, order snacks, contact medical staff, and sign up for prison programs.
Despite their ability to contact others outside of the prison, the tablets are not connected to the internet, and inmates are unable to contact others in the prison through the devices. There are also no violent video games available.
“These are games I allow my 4-year-old to play,” said one inmate to The Post. “The most violent game is, like, ‘Angry Birds.’”