Should incarcerated individuals have access to technology?
Good Saturday, Friends! I spent the day getting a major internet upgrade (bandwidth is one of the new dividing lines between the haves and have-nots in the US, including those in custody) and I can already feel the difference.
So this provides a good opportunity for me to bring up a hot topic in Corrections: should incarcerated individuals have access to technology? What about the internet? I can tell you that most Sheriffs in MA are absolutely terrified of giving those in custody access to desktops, laptops, or tablets--even those that are only intranet-enabled. And the question of internet access is a non-starter with most Sheriffs. Why are they so afraid? Some of it is certainly legitimate: if an offender can use the phone to continue criminal activities on the outside (such as drug dealing), what might be possible with an internet-enabled laptop or tablet? They could potentially reach out to a victim of their offense, or attempt to contact someone who has a restraining order, or engage in other illegal activities, landing the Sheriff's name in the paper for all the wrong reasons. But is zero technology and no internet access the answer? Absolutely not. The use of technology and even appropriate use of the internet is completely possible even while in custody. How? There are software security programs available where the teacher or other staff can monitor all student screens at once from their laptop. A good IT specialist can configure the student hardware so that the instant someone strays to a non-approved site, the screen shuts down and an alert sounds. Appropriate and approved whitelisted (I cringe at that term) sites can be enabled on student hardware and none others; this is not difficult. If we truly want to break the cycle of recidivism, we need to give justice-involved individuals the opportunity to upgrade their digital literacy skills and give them access to educational programming that is prevalent and readily available, often at no or low cost to the facility. We know that education is the only thing that has been statistically proven (and extensively studied) to reduce recidivism; education at any level during incarceration reduces the likelihood of recidivating by 43% (RAND study). Given that the current rates of recidivism are approximately 65% nationally (and Hampshire is no different) if you put those statistics together it could mean that instead of 2 out of 3 returning to custody, it might only be 1. That's huge--for that person, for their family and community, for the overall rates of incarceration, and for the taxpayers who foot the bill. We can do this. #KnowYourSheriff