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My favorite thing on planet Earth is watching movies and TV shows. I am a pop culture addict with a ridiculous amount of useless knowledge in my brain, and I’m not ashamed to say it.
My love of TV and movies is not about sitting around and being lazy. It’s a love of creative storytelling. For me, there is nothing better than getting invested in an interesting story that keeps me guessing. I look for thematic elements, intriguing dialogue, relatable characters, and techniques with camera work, lighting, sound, and special effects in every piece of media I consume. I’ll admit it, I’m a nerd.
When I was sentenced to two 15-year sentences for possession of marijuana and cultivating marijuana, I assumed I would be cut off from one of my biggest passions. I was also worried because I went to prison in the middle of the final season of Breaking Bad, and I thought I would have to wait for years to find out the fate of Walter White.
It turns out, I was wrong about being cut off from TV. But, I wouldn’t get to enjoy movies and TV the way I do in the free world. So, let’s talk about today’s topic: can you watch Netflix in prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
Yes. Inmates can watch TV in prison, but how they watch TV, what they watch, and how much they watch is determined by what facility they are in. Let’s start with the feds. Inmates who are incarcerated in most federal facilities are not allowed to buy personal TV’s for their cell, but they do have TVs in day rooms and recreation areas.
This can cause problems because not everyone will agree on what to watch, and that can lead to fights. Usually, OG inmates have control over the TV, and they will make those decisions. In some of the maximum-security and supermax facilities where inmates are locked down most of the day. The inmates are allowed to have TVs in their cells. However, my sources tell me that those TVs are provided by the prisonㅡnot purchased by the inmateㅡand will have BOP-controlled programming on it, like educational classes.
In most state facilities, the inmates are allowed to purchase their own TV for their bunk. The FIRST thing I bought when I got to prison was a TV, and it was a 13-inch, clear flat screen that cost $179. We were required to wear headphones when we watched our personal TVs, and the prison provided local channels and limited basic cable.
There were also TVs in the dayroom that inmates could watch if they didn’t have their own.
No. Inmates do not have internet access, so Netflix or other streaming services aren’t available. However, where I was incarcerated, we did have access to Netflix indirectly. Let me explain. For those of you too young to remember, Netflix started out as a DVD-by-mail rental service where you could rent up to three DVDs at-a-time for about $8 a month.
You would put all of the movies you wanted to rent in your Queue, and as you returned your movies they would automatically send you the next one in line. It turns out, Netflix still offers this service today! The rec department at the prison I was in had a Netflix DVD by mail account, and inmates would request movies they would like to see for the “state movie.”
One of the channels on our cable was controlled by the prison, and each day they would play a “state movie” on repeat from noon to midnight. This was the only way the inmates could see a new release. There was a new movie every day, and we had a movie committee to help select the titles each month.
We weren’t allowed to watch R-rated movies, so only G, PG, and PG-13.
If you have a loved one who is currently incarcerated, you are probably familiar with JPay, a Florida-based company that provides electronic services to inmates and their families. JPay is a service that allows you to send money and emails to your incarcerated loved one, and some facilities allow JPay to offer video visitation.
Correctional facilities that contract with JPay have kiosks in the common spaces in prisons where inmates can check their inmate account balance and purchase commissary items and phone time.
Now, the company has introduced tablets, and many prisons have started offering inmates and their families the chance to buy one for a variety of different purposes. As a rule, the tablets are not WiFi-enabled, but they can sync with the kiosk to preview, purchase, and download songs and other media content.
Inmates with a tablet can listen to music and audiobooks, read and write emails, play games they have purchased, view photos and videos, access educational materials, read the daily news, and rent and watch movies. The services available on the tablets vary depending on the facility.
So, even though they don’t have access to Netflix, more and more inmates are able to purchase tablets where they can watch movies. Of course, it isn’t cheap.
By the way, I finally found out what happened to Walter White years after everyone else did when I stumbled upon a Breaking Bad marathon in 2016.
Should inmates be allowed to have TVs and tablets in prison? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Buy Media: JP5 Tablets https://www.jpay.com/PMusic.aspx
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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