51,000 New York Prisoners Are About To Get Tablet Computers

It's a controversial decision.

New York inmates will be able to access books and music using tablet computers in the near future.

Through a deal between The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and JPay, the communications company used by many prisons, inmates will be given tablets without taxpayers paying a dime. In exchange, New York state prisons will launch a pilot program through JPay that allows family members to send inmates money when they are in prison. 

"As we continue to use technology to make our prisons safer, we will also leverage it to improve operations and interactions with family and friends by expanding services to our population," Anthony J. Annucci, the department's acting commissioner, said Tuesday at a state budget hearing, per CNN.

There are approximately 51,000 prisoners in New York, and each is expected to receive a tablet with access to educational material and a program that allows them to file grievances with the prison. When plugged in at a monitored kiosk, the tablets will also allow them to send emails to a controlled list of recipients. The news comes just weeks after the state began implementing a ban on nearly all reading material that wasn't romance novels or religious texts, which caused immediate outrage.

It's unclear if the tablet program will allow access to more reading material.

Georgia and Colorado have already launched similar tablet programs, and officials say they are hoping the program helps increase communication with family. But not everyone is celebrating the news. The New York Post ran a story critical of the decision, noting "murderers, rapists and child molesters" would now get access to the tablets many on the outside don't have. 

"Little is done for the homeless, mentally ill, and hard-working people who can't afford tablets in New York state," Ed Mullins, head of the NYPD sergeants' union, said to The New York Post

Others are more optimistic. Pastor James Giles, who served six years in prison and has ministered in a re-entry program for over two decades, says the tablets will better prepare inmates for life after prison. 

"It's going to open up a huge, vast array of opportunities for inmates that they didn't have before," Giles told WKBW Buffalo. 

Cover photo: Shutterstock / elbud

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