A recent contract between the New York Department of Corrections and JPay, acquired by the advocacy group Prison Policy Initiative, shows the pitfalls of tablet programs like JPay’s. The company provides tablets to prisons for free, and costs associated with using the devices are transferred to the families of the incarcerated (or the inmates themselves, who frequently make less than $1 an hour). In New York, to transfer any amount up to $20 into an inmate’s account, there’s a $3.15 service fee, which jumps to $4.15 for phone calls—transfers above $20 have even higher fees. A 30-minute video call costs as much as $9, and each email costs $0.35 (in Idaho, it’s $0.49).

Technology could really help connect the incarcerated with the outside world, bolster rehabilitation efforts, increase access to education, and maintain family ties. But it’s also a big business, which often undercuts the technology’s promise.

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