PAY-PER-MINUTE E-READERS IN WEST VIRGINIA PRISONS JEOPARDIZE ACCESS TO LITERATURE

Apple’s iPad (left) and Amazon’s Fire (right), two popular tablet computers. Mariordo (Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz) under CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Income earned (or not) by inmates v. charges for reading-time in the feature below: In 1865, the United States passed the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which banned slavery and involuntary servitude “except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” This provided a legal basis for slavery to continue in the country.  

As of 2018, many prisoners in the US perform work. In Texas, Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas, prisoners are not paid at all for their work. In other states, as of 2011, prisoners were paid between $0.23 and $1.15 per hour. Federal Prison Industries paid innmates an average of $0.90 per hour in 2017. In many cases the penal work is forced, with prisoners being punished by solitary confinment if they refuse to work.From 2010 to 2015 and again in 2016, and in 2018 some prisoners in the US refused to work, protesting for better pay, better conditions, and for the end of forced labor. Strike leaders are currently punished with indefinite solitary confinement. Forced prison labor occurs in government-run prisons and private prisons.

The prison labor industry makes over $1 billion USD per year selling products that inmates make, while inmates are paid very little or nothing in return.In California, 2,500 incarcerated workers are fighting wildfires for only $1 per hour, which saves the state as much as $100 million a year.” MORE Wikipedia



“West Virginia’s recent institution of pay-per-minute electronic tablets in prisons is predatory and would effectively limit prisoners’ access to free books,” according to PEN America. The program allows incarcerated people to read a limited selection of books from a free online library, but the service provider will charge up to 5¢ per minute to access this content. The state sharing some of the revenue. The private vendor, Global Tel Link, also reportedly maintains the right to raise prices without state permission.

“If you want to demonstrate how misguided prison policies towards access to literature have become, this serves as a perfect example,” said James Tager, deputy director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America. “Incarcerated people are actually being charged money to read books already in the public domain, and the state gets a portion of the revenue. Not only is this a predatory policy that will actively disincentivize incarcerated people from reading, but it rewards the state for being complicit in these restrictions. After all, do we really expect West Virginia prison officials to develop more permissive policies towards book access now that the state is literally receiving a monetary award for funneling incarcerated people towards these pay-per-minute plans?”

In its September 2019 report Literature Locked Up PEN America examined the recent trend of prisons deploying e-readers. In November 2018, responding to public pressure, the state of Pennsylvania reversed a policy that banned physical book orders and required prisoners to buy e-tablets in order to read. Civil rights groups have increasingly warned that prisons may turn to e-tablets as a lower-cost substitute for physical services — such as law libraries or access to legal assistance — in ways that ultimately degrade the substance of incarcerated people’s constitutional rights.

“The average person may see a headline that says ‘prisoners receive e-tablets’ and think that such an agreement can only be beneficial for the incarcerated population’s right to read. Not necessarily,” Tager said. “We have to look at how these policies are being implemented in practice. Are they truly enlarging incarcerated people’s access to literature? Or are they further entrenching the idea that access to literature is a privilege for incarcerated people and a source of profit for the state? In the case of West Virginia, charging for per-minute access to books in the public domain clearly falls in the latter category. Access to free books should be free. Period.”

This feature is courtesy of PEN America, Wikipedia, and PrisonPolicy.org

PEN America a stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day jamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights and encourages activist poetry.  Email thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

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Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications: Jamie Dedes, Versifier of Truth, Womawords Literary Press, November 19, How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

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