ALBANY, NY — The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) has announced a new initiative to bring tablets to inmates, free of charge.
According to Acting Commissioner Annucci, "the Department will provide each incarcerated individual a tablet, at no cost, with the ability to access free educational material and eBooks and to file greivances."
The Department then followed up with this tweet for clarification:
2 on Your Side has reached out to the Department's public information officer, Thomas Mailey, for additional information.
According to Mailey, the technology will "improve operations and interactions with family and friends by expanding services to our population [...] These new tools will improve connections with families and better prepare those individuals who will be reentering the community."
How it Works
The tablets will be provided by corrections-related service provider JPay, and will deployed in state prisons starting this summer. JPay says the tablets won't have any internet capabilities and that they'll be on a separate service. They'll be preloaded with "educational material," and also feature services like Prison Rape Elimination Act reporting, Grievance filing, and the potential for placing commissary orders.
JPay says that these tablets won't be provided by taxpayer money, but inmates will be footing the costs for some of the tablet's services.
"Similar to purchasing a song on iTunes or an online game, incarcerated individuals will have the same opportunity to purchase entertainment and media products and download them onto the JP5 device. There are fees associated with those purchases, as well as sending emails," JPay told 2 On Your Side in a statement.
According to JPay,14 states are currently offering the devices, and three more could be deploying the devices soon.
Parties Not Pleased
Corrections officers are voicing safety concerns.
“The corrections facilities are glass free. Glass is actually contraband, in that it's not allowed,” said Joe Miano, Western Region Vice President of NYSCOPBA. “In that the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision would be giving every inmate a glass tablet.”
Miano said when there's a will, there's a way; and the union worries inmates could break the tablets to use glass shards as weapons.
He also says it may be difficult to control, and that corrections officers have received very limited information on implementation, supervision, and restrictions.
"We find [it] appalling that there's all kinds of avenues for inmates' families to come visit while they're incarcerated, and this is just going to make it…harder on staff to regulate what the inmates are doing,” Miano said.
The victims side of the prison equation is unhappy with the move as well.
Julie Quinn says she hopes she speaks for other victims’ families when she says it’s unfair that her brother’s killer, currently serving a lengthy sentence, gets a free tablet.
“Why is he getting rewarded? You are in prison, and as far as I'm concerned, that's supposed to be a place you don't get gifts, and that to me is a gift,” said Quinn.
Quinn’s brother, Nicholas Jozens, died in a 2015 shooting in South Buffalo.
A local inmate advocacy group is also raising eyebrows at this decision.
Karima Amin with Prisoners are People Too said by phone she thinks it's a money grab.
When 2 on Your Side asked the company how it'll recoup the cost of the free tablets, they responded by e-mail, "Similar to purchasing a song on iTunes or an online game, incarcerated individuals will have the same opportunity to purchase entertainment and media products and download them onto the JP5 device."
"Family can contact them and send them money to buy things? What can I send to my brother? I can't send him anything,” Quinn said.