InternetThe man in 222 North has two daughters in elementary school. Every night they send him an e-mail and he writes back to them. Sometimes they ask him for help with their history homework. He checks his facts on the web and then communicates with them by instant messenger. Since his wife has to work longer now that he’s doing time, the kids depend on their father more for help with school. Because of the Internet, he can help them.

In 333 South the pictures on the wall show scenes from 3000 miles away. This man’s parents worry about him and he worries about them. Phone calls cost too much, so he keeps in touch with them by e-mail which is free. Being connected to his family  makes a big difference in his life. His mother frequently scans in pictures of  friends and of their small farm. 333 South sees a picture of their rice field ready for harvest. These scenes from home make him regret his drug-running.

After e-mailing his parents, 333 South logs on to Dave’s ESL café and takes an English grammar test on the web. email in jailAfter each test question he can see the answer right away. He doesn’t have to wait a week until his teacher corrects him. He’s doing a lot better with English now.

But evil lurks in 444 East. This man wants some hot Internet sex. He types in an address a guy sold him for 3 smokes. A blue screen comes up: BLOCKED. He goes to a good search engine and types in SEXY SLUTS. Oh man, too good to be true, 133,000 sites. He clicks the first one: BLOCKED. And the second and so on. All BLOCKED just as they are in any secondary school.

555 West works late into the night. He’s getting out in three months and he needs work. Even though the crisis has eliminated a lot of computer jobs, he knows there’s room for a system administrator who knows UNIX and LINUX. He studies hard. No more prison for him.

He finishes at 1 AM. Used to be the last drink of the day at that time. He misses it, so he signs on to AA ON-LINE.

supervised internetIn the central guard room, On-Duty Joe sips his coffee and smiles. Three months ago he got a lay-off notice. “Electronic security has eliminated the need for…etc. etc. “ But Joe is working again. He monitors all Internet action. It’s a beautiful job because he knows who to watch. He sees 444 East go for the SEXY SLUTS. He chuckles because he knows what’s going to happen. But when 444 East gives up on sex and sends an e-mail to someone demanding money, Joe goes into action. He types a few numbers on his computer and 444 East is off the web forever.

Up in the front office during the day, the budget director is happy. Internet access costs each guy $30 a month. 300 guys have signed on, that’s $9,000 a month. “After expenses,” he tells the warden, “we’ll have a profit of at least $5,000 a month. Imagine that – a profit.”

There are great advantages and some disadvantages to the Internet. Some American prisoners now have access to email. A more fundamental problem exists in Canada, because our prison officials forbid almost all personal computers.

What is your opinion? Should the Internet be allowed in prison?

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  1. Heather says:

    Ed, this was a wonderful example of “show don’t tell.” 🙂 After reading your posting, how could a person not agree with internet usage in prisons particularly under the scrutiny you’ve outlined? I’m all for it!

  2. Joe Pineda says:

    This is the very first time I get to hear about this. It’s a really interesting project, so as long as it’s monitored to avoid malicious usage. But what about inmates keeping blogs? Is that possible?

  3. hg says:

    Of course, prisoners need Internet access, especially if they’re nearing their release time. Sending a person out into the world today without Internet skills? Isn’t that a bit like tossing them off the Titanic without a lifeboat in sight?

    Without the Internet, you can’t find a job, a place to rent, a support group, directions for which bus to take — not knowing how to use it is worse than having one hand tied behind your back. Crazy.

  4. Joanne says:

    I agree with Heather! This was beautifully written and makes a good case.

    Having said that, I don’t know much about how easy it would be to prevent people from having any access at all, as once the internet is in there anyone can access someone else’s computer even if they don’t have one. It would certainly create work for staff.

    I suspect that although this is an experiment that needs to be tried, unless they are forced to, CSC would prefer to keep the status quo and lessen their headaches. For one thing, they would have to hire people with some intelligence to be able to keep up with those inside who are more clever. The internet is so vast that they couldn’t possibly anticipate all the sites that could get people into trouble.

    They could start very small though and at least allow email. But even there, monitoring would be a huge endeavor unless they could do like they do with the phones and limit what email addresses people inside could send to or recieve from. And just like they do with phone calls and letters they can target their monitoring to those who tend to get into trouble.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Yes, there are dangers, Joanne, and staff would have to be on the case. But for every danger, I can name 5 advantages for the person in prison. And I think it could be at least revenue zero, if not be a bit of a profit. Guys have to pay and pay what we do out here and screw up and they lose it forever.

  5. Colin Soucy says:

    I believe that if the stated premise of your system is to rehabilitate inmates in order for them to fit back into society, then denying them access to and knowledge of how to use computers, is completely idiotic. Our society and our world is completely immersed in technology and makes exponential leaps forward almost daily, a person who is computer illiterate is a person who is left behind. If a man (or woman) can’t adjust to today’s technology upon release then that person is doomed to resume his or her criminal behaviour. Unfortunately, the usual “tough on crime” crowd have brainwashed and outright lied to the public in general by convincing us that teaching inmates proper use of computers will only lead to more crimes. It’s this type of thinking which only re-enforces my belief that the CSC doesn’t really want to reform criminals at all, as that would eliminate the need for their existence. It would not take a genius, only a few tech-nerds, to set up a prison internet program that would be safe and a benefit to society in general. Obviously you wouldn’t allow those inmates who were involved in some sort of cyber crime access to the program. I’m telling you again, this would be a simple thing to do and it would improve the lives of many.

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