JPay has just released a new tablet, the JP5mini, an Android-based tablet that’s specifically designed to deal with some of the rigours of use in the prison setting. Its purchase cost to inmates is $69.99, and there are additional per-use fees with it. Its casing is more durable than the typical tablet's, its firmware is locked and the programs allow prison officials to screen content.
JPay is not a company without controversy, specifically as regards its financial gouging of inmates and their families, not unlike other companies discussed. But they do seem to be demonstrating some enthusiasm over opening up possibilities for online education with their technology, if their CEO's words are any indication.
But while JPay has been quick to tout the importance of the tablet to improving access to educational resource and online courses, it’s important to note that American Prison Data Systems are also providing inmates with tablets for entertainment and educational purposes, but at no cost to the prisoners themselves. And would seem to me that if JPay is truly committed to reducing recidivism through education—as they suggest on their blog—then they should follow suit in those cases where the tablets are being used for the dedicated purposes of coursework. After all, it's counter-productive to require individuals engaged in online study to pay $70 for the unit and then $0.40 for a digital stamp each time they want to contact an instructor. A system which differentiates between personal use and educational use would hardly be difficult to implement.
The technology offers promise nevertheless, and we look forward to seeing how it develops and hope that appropriate infrastructure that allows access to educational resources is developed alongside it. Because as long as we’re only providing access to these tools to those who have financial means, its potential impact on recidivism will remain unrealized.