By Ryan Martin
A plan to put a tablet in every Indiana inmate’s hands could help offenders stay connected with their families and improve their education, which are important ways to keep them from returning to prison.
But the plan is also raising questions about fairness.
Could a technology company providing specialized tablets made for prison environments take advantage of captive buyers to price gouge on purchases for games, movies and music?
Those are some of the benefits and possible pitfalls of an Indiana Department of Correction technology proposal which was first filed in January. The proposal also calls for a secure network and electronic kiosks across the prison system’s 23 facilities.
Depending on which company is selected, offenders could use the tablets to access their classwork and self-help materials 24 hours per day. They could more easily order from the commissary, and sift through legal research.
They also could use their tablets to pay for entertainment — for a still undetermined price, with that money going to a private company while the state keeps a 10-percent cut.
That’s how IDOC expects to pay for the tablets. IDOC is hoping a vendor would front the costs so taxpayers don’t have to. Then the vendor would be reimbursed and earn a profit, as inmates buy music and movies.
The state is still accepting applications and will negotiate with vendors, so some specifics — such as potential fees to inmates — are unknown.
William Wilson, an IDOC executive director, emphasized that the department simply wants to help offenders with its tablet program — and that any fees collected would be used to reduce the reliance on tax dollars. Charging fees that inmates couldn’t afford would defeat the purpose of the proposal.