Tablet Technology Is Coming To State Prisons

The legislative hearing to review the public protection components of the governor’s Executive Budget began at 9:30 a.m., Tuesday and didn’t end until approximately 10:30 p.m. Tucked inside more than 13 hours of testimony was a proposal that drew attention the following day, and caught many New Yorkers off-guard.  
The State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) announced that it will provide every inmate with a computer tablet, allowing them to access eBooks and educational material and have the ability to file grievances. Prisoners will also be able to purchase music and have access to a secure email system. The tablet initiative is made possible through an arrangement between DOCCS and a vendor called JPay. It will come at no cost to the state.
The announcement left many scratching their heads. An iPad or tablet is a luxury that plenty of hardworking New Yorkers might struggle to afford. It’s hardly a necessity for everyday life, let alone inside the walls of a prison.
This administration has bent over backward to make life easier for those who have run afoul of the law. Last year, New York raised the age of criminal responsibility. This year brings proposals to remove bail requirements for low-level offenders. We all want a fair and effective criminal justice system and should implement common-sense improvements when appropriate.
But what’s been forgotten in New York is that every crime has a victim. Right now it’s getting tougher to identify who’s looking out for their interests. Each year, with each new policy, Albany’s offensive pro-criminal mentality becomes more blatant:  

  • When more than 570,000 school-aged children live in poverty and a full 25 percent of economically-disadvantaged students fail to graduate, the governor is now handing out high-tech gadgets to murderers and rapists. 
  • While the average New York student takes on $32,000 in debt, the governor has advocated for giving free college education to convicted criminals.
  • With police risking their lives every day, the governor commuted the sentence of Judith Clark, who drove the getaway car in a 1981 robbery in which a guard and two police officers were killed. He even described her as “impressive.” 

It’s no accident that the tablet program was unveiled at a budget hearing, buried in hours of testimony with no fanfare from the governor’s office. This administration routinely seeks credit and attention for issues of far less interest or impact (“Governor Cuomo Announces State Fair’s Drone Film Festival and Competition Returns for Second Year”). On Tuesday, they were silent.
Perhaps there are too many unanswered questions. Under current policy, cell phones, cameras or devices with internet access are forbidden in state prisons, so where do tablets fit in? Could tech-savvy inmates break through firewalls and security measures? Is it possible that tablets could be broken and used as weapons? 
Or maybe they recognize an obvious reality: when convicted criminals serving prison sentences are given free high-tech toys when average New Yorkers are struggling to make ends meet, there is something inherently wrong.
What do you think?  I want to hear from you. Send me your feedback, suggestions and ideas regarding this or any other issue facing New York State. You can always contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, email me at, find me by searching for Assemblyman Brian Kolb on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter.

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