Tech Behind Bars: Inside the prison system’s illicit digital world
February 9, 2015 3:59 AM   Subscribe

Jails and prisons are supposed to be technological dead zones. In all but the laxest minimum-security facilities, cell phones are banned for inmates, as are personal laptops, tablets, and other Internet-connected devices. Federal prisons have implemented CorrLinks or TRULINCS, e-mail systems that allow inmates to send monitored messages to pre-approved contacts. But the wider Internet remains off-limits. In many prisons, the most up-to-date device approved for ordinary inmate use is the pay-phone. posted by ellieBOA (13 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks, these are great!

The prison library clerk I worked with had a weird mania for PowerPoint. He was one of a very few prisoners who could make good slides, because he was one of very few who got to mess around with the old computers they had. I could never persuade him that PP was universally despised out here in the world.

Now that our program is up and running, there are a group of clerks who run the database and they regularly impress me. (I hate databases.) It's kind of wonderful to think that in a couple of decades we'll get over this medievalism and prisons will be much more connected places. They need to be. (Of course, if we're still locking up so many of our citizens we will have functionally left the medievalism in place.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:04 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


and yet all I can think is, "why doesn't Prison Architect let me play as a smuggler :("

I might be a terrible person.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:31 AM on February 9, 2015


(Of course, if we're still locking up so many of our citizens we will have functionally left the medievalism in place.)

Or extended it to the outside world. We have the surveillance infrastructure; the next step would be to rearchitect the internet with a “punitive tier”, where access to user-generated content sites is blocked, as are most private and commercial sites, with the exception of a whitelist of certified services required to function in modern society. Everyone from sex offenders to video pirates to, in some societies, political dissidents would be consigned to this tier.
posted by acb at 5:38 AM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


See also the Between the Bars project, which supports incarcerated people to connect with their families and communities online, through letters and postcards. The letters can scanned and posted online and the comments get mailed back and forth through the postal system.
posted by honest knave at 5:40 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Inmates Human beings are so creative, and they’re smart,” Simas says. “It’s amazing what they can do with the time and ingenuity that we're stealing from them”
posted by eustatic at 6:26 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm thinking of Baudrillard's assertion that Disneyland assures us that the rest of Los Angeles (Hollywood) is real, similar to Foucault's (?) assertion that jails convince those who are not jailed that they are free. The reality (for these thinkers) is that the whole of society is structured like a prison.

So to allow prisoners to have relatively unrestricted access to the Internet would go a long way to making prisons unlike a prison in terms of freedom of association and freedom of expression.

Prisoners then might be able to advocate on their own behalfs effectively and strategize ways to resist the carceral structures and unequal social system that work together to reinforce their identities as carceral subjects.

The advent of Internet communication within prison systems for the incarcerated would constitute a significant challenge (and more likely threat) to the current US penal system.

I'm not saying it won't happen, but the US industrial jail system would be very different if prisoners had access to Internet communications.

And many of those not incarcerated might wonder why their own lives are not as free as they once seemed.
posted by mistersquid at 7:20 AM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


Inmates Human beings

cf. "Black lives matter"
posted by LogicalDash at 7:32 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm thinking of Baudrillard's assertion that Disneyland assures us that the rest of Los Angeles (Hollywood) is real, similar to Foucault's (?) assertion that jails convince those who are not jailed that they are free. The reality (for these thinkers) is that the whole of society is structured like a prison.

Little did they know that Heidegger was invented to make them think they were philosophers!
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:13 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Got some out-of-date technology you'd like to unload on a literally captive audience?
Prison tech might be for you!

Union Supply Direct, JL Marcus, and Keefe Group are three of the main suppliers.
JL Marcus is notable for posting their catalog online.

Some of the products you'll pretty much only see in prison include Swintec clear typewriters, the Sony SRF-39FP, the Keefe Access to Entertainment Player, and hot pots and immersion heaters that will warm (but not boil) water.

I got a little curious about the subject after a MeFi thread on ignignokt's project about his friend going to prison, as part of which I dug into the Zimmer Amendment and the No Frills Prison Act.
posted by zamboni at 8:45 AM on February 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


When I worked in Minnesota, my school purchased computers refurbished by prison inmates through Minnesota Computers for Schools. A big part of the program is inmate training, though I don't believe they actually get computer computer training, that comes afterwards, though they certainly learn the physical repair aspect in prison.
posted by jmd82 at 9:56 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Mississippi Department of Corrections authorized a $1.3 million project last year to place 40-foot-high nets around its facilities, to prevent cell phones and other contraband from being thrown over barbed-wire fences into the facility.

So... an enterprising individual only need locate something that can go 50 feet in the air, and carry a cellphone. And preferably difficult to hit with a rifle. Pretty sure one of these guys would do the trick, and would take what, two deliveries to make your money back?
posted by pwnguin at 1:05 PM on February 9, 2015


Thank you for posting this - interesting article.

Back in the mid-1990s, I was working with a collective that helped a prisoner pass his parole review and secure his release. Later he showed up at our space to meet and thank us. While we were talking he saw our recently purchased computer and asked if we needed any help with it. He had been in solitary in Walla Walla for years so we were a little curious as to where he had acquired his computer expertise. Turns out one of the things he did while in solitary was read computer manuals. We were still a bit dubious but we did need the help because the computer was a mess.

Within the space of the next couple hours he had sorted out all our computer problems, upgraded our operating system, installed a bunch of useful freeware programs, and in general turned it into a new, go-faster machine. From what I know, he's been working as a computer technician in San Francisco ever since.

Think about that: he memorized computer manuals. Think of what he could have accomplished if he had access to the real thing. Creative and smart, indeed.
posted by jammy at 4:27 PM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


The prison library clerk I worked with had a weird mania for PowerPoint.

Was the clerk's name "The Department of Defense"?
posted by j_curiouser at 7:20 PM on February 10, 2015


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