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West Virginia Prisoners Lose Computers

Following the lead of prisoncrats in Washington, New Jersey, Wyoming, and Alaska, West Virginia DOC officials ordered the removal of all prisoner-owned personal computers from state prison cells.

Corrections Commissioner Bill Davis, who took office August 1, 1997, issued a memorandum to all state prison administrators in which he said, "I am philosophically opposed to incarcerated persons having the luxury of computers in their cells." Prisoners were given 30-days to ship their computers out or face having them confiscated. About 30 prisoners have computers at the maximum - security Mount Olive prison, said Davis. He was unsure if prisoners at other state prisons have computers in their cells.

Davis said that prisoners who own computers have used them to gamble, barter and do paperwork for other prisoners, leaving some prisoners in financial debt to others. Debt between prisoners is a very dangerous situation, cautioned Davis.

But taking computers away from prisoners will not curtail those activities because prisoners will find other means, said attorney Jim Sugerman of Mountain State Justice, a legal service for the poor.

Prisoners need to learn how to use computers to get jobs when they are released, Sugerman said. "In modern times, this is the equivalent of not letting prisoners learn how to read."

Corrections officials in other states have taken away prisoner- owned computers, said Sugerman, to make it more difficult for prisoners to file lawsuits.

Sugerman represents four WV prisoners in a lawsuit pending in federal court. Two Mount Olive prisoners filed suit last year when their computers were taken away. The case was denied class-action status, but two additional prisoners were added as plaintiffs.

Corrections Digest

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