nettime's avid reader on Wed, 4 Dec 2019 08:19:17 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> A Dystopian New Initiative Will Charge Inmates by the Minute to Read

A Dystopian New Initiative Will Charge Inmates by the Minute to Read e-Books

If you’re not already on board with the ways in which for-profit prisons
are a moral and civic affront and the outrageous and racially-biased
incarceration rate in the United States amounts to a new form of
slavery, I’m not sure what might convince you, but try this on for size:
prisons in West Virginia are introducing a new e-literacy initiative
that will charge prisoners to read.

According to a report by, the plan is to offer inmates at
West Virginia prisons access to “free” electronic tablets, and then
charge for their use. The contract, administrated by Global Tel Link
(GTL) in 10 West Virginia prisons, and detailed by Appalachian Prison
Book Project, offers tablet use at $0.05 per minute (with an
introductory rate discounted to $0.03) to read books, listen to music,
or play games; $0.25 per minute for video visitations; $0.25 per written
message; and $0.50 to send a photo with a message. Based on information
tabulated by Prison Policy Initiative in 2017, wages in West Virginia
prisons range between $0.04 and $0.58 an hour, meaning a single minute
of screen time might be commensurate with an hour of an inmate’s
insultingly underpaid labor.


The United States currently boasts the largest prison population in the
world, as well as the highest incarceration rate per capita. The
introduction of privatized prisons in the 1980s as a way of meeting
demand driven by racist Reagan-era policies added a profit motive to
system that had previously, at least in theory, prioritized
rehabilitation over quarterly earnings. In fact, rehabilitation is
unprofitable in the prison business, so why would it want to make
resources available to help inmates get degrees, assist in their own
legal defense, or have viable options upon release? The impact of
incarceration on earning potential was summarized in a devastating 2010
Pew Research study, but why wait until people are out of prison to start
screwing them out of their meager paychecks? That’s clearly the question
on the mind of Global Tel Link and the West Virginia prison system.

But hey, GTL is providing content, some 60,000 e-books on these tablets,
so surely the money they are charging goes toward defraying that cost,
right? Nope! All the tablets are running books available for free
through Project Gutenberg. You just know whichever morally bankrupt GTL
executive came up with that one is high-fiving himself all the way to
the Corvette dealership. Stealing labor for content AND labor for
readership! If the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future are
available, I’ve got some ideas for who they should be visiting this
coming Christmas.

Appalachian Book Project (APBP) also notes that “most of the books we
receive requests for at APBP — how-to guides (carpentry, starting a
business, repairing small engines, etc.), contemporary fiction, popular
mysteries and sci-fi, African American literature, Native studies,
recent autobiographies — will not be available.”

While the tablets being introduced at the 10 correctional centers are
being met with anticipation for their potentional to enhance
communication with loved ones and increase access to entertainment
media, it is impossible to view the arrangement from the outside with
anything but anger and disdain at the ways that the cultural
prioritization of profits over basic human decency continues to rot our
society at its fundament. I guess on one point, they have it right:
there’s no need for access to fictional dystopian narratives anymore.
Such ideas are no longer in the realm of science fiction, but a grim
statement of fact.

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