Scarcely eighteen months after Colorado prison authorities began distributing 19,000 "free" electronic tablets to state prisoners, the devices have been confiscated and the services they provided suspended. A Colorado Department of Corrections spokesman blamed "unforeseen security issues" for the disruption of the program.
The CDOC began introducing the tablets early last year, amid much controversy. Some critics complained about felons getting perks that many law-abiding citizens can't afford, while others saw the plan as a "babysitting service" and a further incursion of private industry profiteering off inmates. The devices could be used for phone calls and messaging as well as to access video games and music. Global Tel-Link, the private company that provided the tablets, pays the CDOC $800,000 a year for the right to supply prisoner phone services, video visitation, money transfers and the tablets — and then collects fees for each service, from 49 cents per message to up to twenty bucks a month for a music subscription.
The arrangement was supposed to make it easier for inmates to communicate with loved ones, connect with programming and manage other aspects of being incarcerated — while security features of the tablets would prevent unauthorized calls or Internet access. But a report from the Prison Policy Initiative blasted the program's terms as heavily weighted in GTL's favor, saying that the contract with CDOC "exploits consumers by obscuring important details, incentivizing private interests, and charging exorbitant fees."
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And the devices apparently aren't as secure as authorities thought. CDOC spokesman Mark Fairbairn declined to comment on the nature of the security flaw that has been brought to the department's attention. Tablets distributed to inmates in other states have been used for unauthorized communications and even fraudulent financial transactions — most recently in Idaho, where hundreds of inmates were able to hack into their electronic JPay service and add thousands of dollars of credit to their accounts. But Fairbairn says the problem identified in Colorado is a different issue.
"The contract between CDOC and GTL has not been canceled," Fairbairn says. "The CDOC will continue to review options for future deployment of tablets."
An email from another prison official indicates that GTL will reimburse prisoners for unused subscriptions and undelivered messages sent by family and friends.