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Photo courtesy of Charles N. Diorio

Incarcerated people in Massachusetts prisons have had access to limited internet service and e-mails since 2016, an evolution in the care and custody of prisoners with far-reaching opportunities and implications. 

The Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC) approved internet services throughout its correctional institutions as part of the commonwealth’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint. In doing so, the thought was that correctional facilities could reduce paper, mail and other tangible products associated with incarceration.

As an alternative to paper, incarcerated people were permitted to purchase handheld Android tablets that allow them to download music, movies, games and e-mail.

In April, the DOC allowed outside vendors to collect and digitize mail sent to inmates. After a notice and a public hearing, changes were made to inmate mail delivery, so we now could only receive photocopied or digitized copies of our mail. This was aimed in part to also prevent contraband such as Suboxone and K2 synthetic cannibinoids from coming in. 

Vendors such as Access Corrections and Corrlinks began offering a film library, music downloads, books, e-mails, games and other services including the opportunity to receive short video clips and photographs. Android tablets have become a ubiquitous part of prison life. 

The cost of sending a single email is currently 25 cents. We pay $3 for a two-day movie rental. Music downloads cost $1.85 per song. Games cost anywhere between $2 to $4. Prices are not regulated. 

Wi-Fi is easily accessible throughout the cell blocks. Most inmates get a strong signal from practically every cell. Downloading is fast and easy. There is a real effort to substitute digital downloads as a way to combat climate change. 

Still, prison officials are slow to introduce many of the applications that were agreed to in the contracts with vendors. Photographs and short videos, for example, have yet to be allowed. E-mails can only be sent and received by people who pay a $10 registration fee to the vendor, Corrlinks. Only then is a contact allowed on the inmate’s e-mail exchange network. Prisoners may not initiate first contact. 

This initial cost is a barrier-to-entry that prevents many people from communicating with incarcerated people via e-mails. 

The Massachusetts Department of Correction has taken important steps in complementing its progressive incarceration practices with modern technology. Whether to advance a Green New Deal, or combat the introduction of illicit drugs behind bars, incarcerated people are benefiting from high tech opportunities. 

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Charles N. Diorio is a writer, who has published two novels “Run Charlie Run” and “Breach of Security.” He has also been published in the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons. He is incarcerated in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter @authorcdiorio.