July 29, 2021

A Coalition of Organizations Including ALA, EveryLibrary, & PEN America, Demand Prison E-Book Readers Drop Access Fees During COVID-19

From PEN America:

The companies providing tablets and e-readers in U.S. prisons and jails should waive all fees for incarcerated people to access content on these tablets, as well as fees for educational and other programs to communicate with incarcerated students, for the duration of the pandemic. A coalition of free expression and criminal justice reform groups made that demand in a letter today to the CEOs of Aventiv Technologies Inc. (the parent company of Securus Technologies and JPay) and Global Tel Link. PEN America, joined by more than 45 organizations concerned with incarcerated people’s access to literature and other content, say those fees only deepen the sense of isolation that incarcerated people are experiencing amid the COVID-19 crisis.

“As we speak, millions of Americans are confined to their homes in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. Yet, they have a multitude of options to continue to engage with the outside world through educational and recreational access to information,” the letter reads. “Incarcerated people, however, only have a small fraction of these options on a regular day, and the coronavirus pandemic has made their situation immeasurably worse. Every state prison has suspended in-person visits with family and friends, and many have cancelled educational and recreational programming, access to prison libraries, and prison work programs.”

Tablets and e-readers are one of the few ways that some of the nation’s two million incarcerated people have to access educational and recreational content in prison, especially critical as officials respond to the virus by further isolating prison populations from the outside world. Pay-per-minute rates for the use of these tables can be prohibitive for incarcerated people, cutting off a crucial lifeline to families, friends, and loved ones.

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“In a time of increased isolation for all incarcerated people, access to information and entertainment is a necessary step toward addressing the coronavirus pandemic as it spreads through jails, prisons, and detention centers,” said Jeanie Austin, a jail librarian and one of the drafters of the open letter. “Incarcerated people’s ability to access information can assist them not only in occupying their minds during long (and likely anxious) hours in their cells, but to stay up-to-date with information about the coronavirus, including its spread within prison facilities. The companies named in this letter have the power to provide access to all this. And since the practices of disease-containment within jails, prisons, and detention centers often mimic the disciplinary measures often taken by these facilities–restricting access to programming, library materials, and visitors–the tablets provided by these companies may be the only way in which people who are incarcerated or detained can access information for their own well-being.”

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Direct to Full Text Letter

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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