Can You Use Computers In Prison?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: February 12, 2020

It’s impossible to live life in the 21st century without the use of computers. You can’t drive a car, get your work done, or pay for a cup of coffee these days without a computer. It’s pretty amazing to think that we have more computing power in our smartphone than NASA had for the first moon landing in 1969. 

When you go to prison, you aren’t living in the real world. Inmates are sent back in time to a world without modern technology, and that makes pretty much everything in life more difficult. It’s a challenge to get anything done in a timely manner, and communicating with someone on the outside can often seem nearly impossible.

Of course, prison workers use computers like anyone else in the free world, but they have to keep their devices locked up if they have internet access on them. But what about the inmates? Do they ever get to use computers while behind bars?

That leads us to today’s blog post: can you use computers in prison?

In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • Do inmates use computers in education and vocational classes?
  • Are computers available to inmates in their housing units?

Do inmates use computers in education and vocational classes?

Prisons go to great lengths to make sure inmates don’t have access to the internet because it is a huge security risk. And, cutting inmates off from the outside world is part of their punishment. However, that doesn’t mean that inmates don’t use computers.

Inmates have computer access in numerous education classes, and some of those classes actually teach inmates how to use different software. 

Computers are also available in the library, especially in the law library because LexisNexis is just about the only way inmates can do research for their appeals. However, the quality and number of computers varies by location, and the computer resources available to inmates can be extremely outdated.

It’s a shame too because there are plenty of online course platforms where instructors can sell courses and inmates can learn valuable skills.

Some inmates have administrative prison jobs that require them to use a computer. But, once again, those computers do not have internet access.

Are computers available to inmates in their housing units?

These days, most prisons have computer kiosks available for inmates to use in their housing units. These kiosks are located in a dayroom or another common area, and they allow inmates to order their weekly canteen items, phone time, and stamps. Some also allow inmates to receive videograms from loved ones. 

The trend these days are inmate tablets. These weren’t available when I was incarcerated, but they have become more and more common in the past couple of years. Companies like JPay and GTL have created inmate tablets that they can buy from canteen, and these tablets allow the inmate to send and receive monitored emails, buy media (music, books, and movies), study for their classes, and play games.

Of course, these tablets do not have internet access. From what I understand, when an inmate has their own tablet, they have to connect them to the kiosk in the housing unit (with a wire) to download their messages and the media they purchased. 

The use of tablets inside of prisons has actually had a positive impact. Some companies, such as Edovo, create tablets with educational software and other content which are paid for by the facilities and free for inmates to use.

“The people who work with us are interested in rehabilitation,” said Mitchel Peterman, who oversees business development at Edovo. “Sometimes there’s initial skepticism, but after a few weeks they see that people are quiet, that incidents of violence go down. It makes their lives easier.”

So, the answer to today’s blog post is technically yes, inmates can use computers in prison. However, it’s extremely different from what you would experience in the free world. And, if you ever see an inmate posting on social media, they are taking a huge risk because the device they are using is illegal contraband.

Some inmates do have social media profiles that are maintained by loved ones, and those are perfectly fine. However, if you see a video clip that features someone behind bars, that’s all kinds of bad news. If they get caught, they will go to the hole for a long, long time.

Do you think prison inmates should have access to computers? Let us know in the comments below.


In U.S. Prisons, Tablets Open Window To the Outside World

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  • I suppose it makes sense that if someone has proven they need to be restricted and watched that they also are restricted and watched with their devices – you can do so much through them! But what about searching the internet – how would an inmate get to do that? What if you are curious about a particular fact? When you say they can’t be connected to the internet at all, do you really mean “at all”?. You mentioned that inmates are allowed to have video games and media – but don’t most require internet to work?

  • I currently teach computer literacy in the NJ prison system. With the appropriate harden firewalls I think the internet should be available to inmates. It would make for a more robust teaching experience

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