28 February, 2018

Tablet PCs for Missouri Prisoners Will Be a Mixed Bag

After learning, four years ago, that the Keefe Corporation was selling prisoners tablet PCs and offering secure service to go with them, I wrote, "When Will Missouri Let Its Prisoners Join the Electronic Conversation?" Not that anyone at the Department of Corrections back then actually read my post, but a new Director of the Division of Adult Institutions did express an interest in acquainting prisoners with technology, which seems to have been the driving force behind the recent announcement that 2018 will be, for those of us imprisoned in Missouri, the year of the tablet.

A multi-page FAQ about the JP5s — the tablet that prison profiteers Jpay will soon issue us free of charge — went up on Crossroads' bulletin boards a while back. It verified a lot of speculations I made when Jpay became the state's contracted provider of online money transfers and "print-and-deliver" e-mail services for prisoners. (Let it never be said that I can't read the tea leaves.) Some things surprised me, though.

The tablets' promised features include:
  • secure e-mail (with image and "VideoGram" attachments available on incoming messages);
  • music and e-book downloads (with movie and game downloads as a behavior-based privilege);
  • KA Lite videos;
  • individualized assignments from education instructors;
  • some variety of daily news feed;
  • electronic access to the prison health and grievance systems, as well as caseworker communications; and
  • (eventually) phone service.
Jpay kiosks set up in the prisons will make video visits available, too.

Except for the education material (which apparently doesn't include the e-books), all of these things will cost money. Prisoners will pay 25¢ to send an e-mail, and who knows how much to download a song from what Jpay brags is "the largest music catalog available in corrections." The state says that its take from these features won't contribute to the DOC's general revenue but stay in the Offender Canteen Fund, which covers things like gym equipment, games and kids' toys for the visiting room, cable TV, and library books — all funded solely with markups on products sold in the prison canteens.

Prisons are full of people with addictive personalities and poor impulse control. Tablet PCs are going to be the best pacifier the DOC has ever seen. With their slack faces aglow above bluish screens, thousands of prisoners will join the ranks of the device-dependent, zombified and utterly inert except for their swiping, tapping, hovering index fingers, too entranced to kick up a fuss. I hope it renders them at least partially mute, also. I could use some peace and quiet.

As far as how a tablet will change my prison existence for the better, well, I'm looking forward to doing away with much of snail mail's delay, and if the Jpay app and website allow for cutting and pasting of text at the recipients' end these blog posts will become a hell of a lot more timely. Because the music I most enjoy tends to be pretty far outside the mainstream, I do worry that my listening pleasures will be diminished. (Somehow it seems unlikely that I'll find the Bolshoi, Xiu Xiu, or even Zola Jesus in Jpay's catalog. We'll see.) Depending on the educational videos' subjects and sophistication, that could be interesting, but I'm not holding my breath.

The rollout's going to take a while. No specific date's been announced. The bureaucracy first has to amend many long-standing DOC policies, and Governor Eric Greitens even has to get involved, revoking the 2007 executive order I posted about the effects of here, which was issued by a predecessor who thought video games and R-rated movies were somehow responsible for prisoner's continued bad behavior.

There is an incentive for the powers that be to quickly get their ducks in a row, though. A settlement between the DOC and a Missouri prisoner led to the Department banning all tobacco products and smoking/vaping accoutrements in its so-called correctional centers. Testy convicts with one less distraction and a dwindling number of incentives to play nice might prove to be more of a handful than 37,000 five-inch tablets.


Byron does not have Internet access. Pariahblog.com posts are sent from his cell by way of a secure service especially for prisoners' use. We do read him your comments, however, and he enjoys hearing your thoughts very much.