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Typewriters Alive and Well in American Prisons Despite Reports of Their Demise

A recent article in The Daily Mail reported the demise of the venerable typewriter in today’s computer age. “Godrej and Boyce – the last company left in the world that was still manufacturing typewriters – has shut down its productions plant in Mumbai, India with just a few hundred machines left in stock. Although typewriters became obsolete years ago in the west, they were still common in India – until recently. Demand for the machines has sunk in the last ten years as consumers switch to computers.”

However, new typewriters are still being sold ... in American prisons.

Ed Michael, general manager of sales for Swintec, a New Jersey-based company, observed that there are still typewriter manufacturers. “We have manufacturers making typewriters for us in China, Japan, Indonesia,” he said, noting that Swintec owns those factories. “We have contracts with correctional facilities in 43 states to supply clear typewriters for inmates so they can’t hide contraband inside them.”

Swintec makes different types of typewriters available depending on a prison system’s regulations. For example, Model 2416DM CC is available in six versions, all with different amounts of memory capable of storing from 4,000 to 128,000 characters. It takes about 2,000 characters to print the average business letter; a full page of double-spaced text is estimated at 2,000 characters.

Michigan allows 128,000 characters of typewriter memory, while New York restricts memory to 7,000 characters and Washington State permits 64,000. Swintec also manufacturers typewriters with no memory, such as Model 2410CC, for the most restrictive states (such as Texas). Some prison systems, such as Florida and Oregon, have banned typewriters and word processors entirely.

Although not coming anytime soon, there are initial signs that prison typewriters may be going the way of typewriters on the outside. The federal Bureau of Prisons is deploying its Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer System (TRULINCS), which allows prisoners to send and receive emails of up to 13,000 characters at dedicated kiosks but does not provide direct access to the Internet. [See: PLN, Dec. 2009, p.24].

Washington State’s prison system is also experimenting with email. Dan Pacholke, Washington’s director of prisons, touts email for prisoners because it “reduces smuggling threats and costs less to process and read than paper mail.”

“I would say that email is more secure in the sense that we can translate it from a foreign language to English. You can read the handwriting. It doesn’t lend itself to encryption.
You can’t use meth-soaked paper. You can’t put white powder in the envelope,” he said.

A number of other state prison systems are providing various types of email services to prisoners, such as those offered by a company called JPay, which supplies money transfers, video visitation and email to prisons and jails in 27 states, for a fee.

So is email an existential threat to the prison typewriter? Perhaps. But presently, no prison offers an email system that would allow a prisoner to compose and submit legal pleadings to a court or write the great American novel. Thus, for now, Swintec’s future is safe and secure – inside American prisons.


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