State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

PA prisons sell inmates eBooks. They can be expensive.

Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Oct 5, 2018 6:53 PM
30prison camp hill.jpg

Inmates currently can't receive books via donation, or from friends and family. They can, however, get them via eBook. (Photo by AP)

 

(Harrisburg) -- The state Department of Corrections is in the middle of overhauling the way inmates get books, after concerns inmates were receiving drugs along with their literature.

In late August, book donations from organizations like Books through Bars were halted. Inmates' families and friends were stopped from sending reading material too.

In the interim, the department has promoted its new eBook system--officially launched September 25--as a way that inmates can get easy access to books.

However, the DOC has no control over prices--and the eBooks can be expensive.

The eBook system is run through telecom company Global Tel Link, which also supplies the tablets inmates can buy through the commissary for $147, plus tax.

Inmates can choose from 8,500 eBooks, and the DOC says it's working to expand that list. But--at least for the term of the department's contract with GTL--prices are fixed. They range from $2.99 to $24.99 and can be significantly higher than prices for books outside prisons.

The Federalist Papers, for instance, is in the public domain and can be easily found for free. In state prisons, the eBook version costs $11.99.

A spokesman for GTL said prices are sometimes higher as a result of the company's business model. He declined to give a more detailed explanation, citing competitive reasons.

A press release on the company's website touts tablet services as being possible because of "inmates paying for the services they want." Therefore, it says, "in almost every instance, these tablets come at no cost to taxpayers."

A spokeswoman for the DOC noted that inmates can also use libraries and buy books through the department.

She said 16,000 inmates have tablets out of about 45,000 total. So far, she said there have been more than 3,000 book downloads.

It's still not clear exactly when the moratorium on book donations and gifts will end, or what the refurbished system will look like. The department estimated it would take about 60 to 90 days from the initial lockdown.

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