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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"Tablets for inmates sparks controversy, highlights concern"
ALBANY, Feb. 11, 2018 -- Under questioning at a recent legislative budget hearing, New York’s corrections commissioner revealed a plan to provide each of the state’s roughly 51,000 inmates with a free computer tablet.
The announcement generated global headlines, including this one in the International Business Times: “Every prisoner in New York is about get a tablet computer.” It also sparked controversy.
At no cost to state taxpayers, a Florida-based firm, JPay Inc., will donate the tablets, which will be pre-loaded with educational material. Inmates will be able to purchase music, e-books, and videos from JPay, as well as receive and send e-mail. Internet access will not be permitted. According to Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) officials, the tablets will also facilitate the filing of inmate grievances.
DOCCS Commissioner Anthony Annucci characterized the move as “groundbreaking.” Prison officials believe tablets can help prepare inmates for eventual life outside the prison walls. Nevertheless, legitimate concerns did not receive full, public scrutiny before the decision was made. DOCCS officials clearly see the tablets as important to inmate rehabilitation. It keeps them in touch with modern technology, proponents argue, and, further, may even help ease tensions within prisons.
There’s another side of the coin, however. Currently, cell phones, cameras, or devices with Internet access are prohibited in state prisons. Why an exception for tablets? Why is the state confident that tech-savvy inmates will not be able to break through firewalls or other security measures? What prevents tablets from being broken or altered in some way in order to be weaponized?
New York is not the first state to take this step. In other states, victims’ rights groups have raised safety concerns. The National Organization for Victim Assistance, for example, once raised the potential for “unrestricted or unsupervised outreach where inmates can revictimize or continue to intimidate victims.” A spokesman for the National Reentry Resource Center once noted that “prisons have trouble containing all sorts of things. You’re dealing with folks who probably want to break some rules.”
The overriding point is that this decision was not, by any means, given the public airing it deserved. The decision was made at the top reaches of the bureaucracy, and that was that.
Regrettably, we’re learning about it at a time of rising concern about violence within our correctional facilities. News reports last week revealed a series of inmate fights involving makeshift weapons that led to temporary lockdowns at the Elmira Correctional Facility a few weeks ago.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp
Bottom row: Carl Blowers, David Reed, Phil Barnes, Mark Rondinaro
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
David M. Reed
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Harriett Vickio, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano--
Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869