Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

“Free” E-Tablets Are Anything But

by Ed Lyon

A lengthy article concerning e-tablets in state prisons was published in the April 2018 issue of PLN (p.44). One of the warnings set out in that article concerned the high fees accompanying apps for those devices. JPay stands out as a major provider of e-tablets, a variant of Apple’s iPad, bestowing those devices free to entire prison populations in New York state. Global Tel Link (GTL) started doing the same in West Virginia last Novmber.

However, there is no such thing as a free lunch, as the old saying goes and it appears based on subsequent developments that there is no such thing as a free e-tablet either. JPay charges prisoners for books, educational materials, email, games, music, video visits, and other items. About the only free use a prisoner has for an e-tablet is using it as a flat surface to support the paper they use to write letters on.

The pay scale for New York prisoners ranges from .10¢ to $1.14 per hour. West Virginia prisoners earn between .04¢ and .58¢ per hour for working.

Arkansas and Texas are two of the four states that pay their prisoners nothing for the work they are required by law to perform.

JPay charges New York prisoners $2.50 to download a single song. An entire album costs as much as $46.

Public-domain books like Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility that are free to the general public cost prisoners 99¢.

Games that are free to the public are not free to prisoners. Bubble Blitz costs $6.99, 2048 Mania is $4.99 and Chicken Town is $6.99. The alleged reason given for the charge for Chicken Town is that prisoners’ version has ad content pop-ups. Since prisoners cannot access the Internet, the ad pop-ups had to be removed from the prisoners’ version. That sounds like chicken something all right.

Thanks to activist involvement by The Online, JPay decided to remove fees for public-domain books but steadfastly refuses to refund charges it collected for previous prisoners’ downloads.

Global Tel Link is JPay’s closest competitor for the literal captive prisoner market. GTL is servicing the West Virginia prison system with free e-tablets. GTL’s scheme is to lift books from the public domain, then charge West Virginia prisoners .05¢ per reading minute. After public condemnation over this egregious practice, GTL magnanimously cut its charge to .03¢ per minute. This charge also covers video games and any music a prisoner listens to. Video visits cost 25 cents per minute and .25¢ for a one-page email with an extra .50¢ for an accompanying photo.

These are quite high charges for a “free” e-tablet, whether one is imprisoned in New York or West Virginia. Both states receive commissions from JPay and GTL from what they charge prisoners for apps and books.

This technology also paved the way for many state prisons to shut down in-house general reading libraries and limit, if not completely stop, prisoners from receiving books and reading materials sent by free book projects and retail booksellers. Ohio had enacted such a ban but retreated from it as a result of intense public backlash. Ohio prisoners may once again purchase books from vendors, but all purchases must originate from their prison trust fund accounts where all deposits and withdrawals are run by who else? JPay. 



As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login