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Charging Inmates To Read

Reading improves the mind. We know that. The interesting thing is that reading just about anything is good for us, though, clearly, certain types of material are better than others.

A number of benefits accrue to those who read. We learn how to use the English language better. We pick up information that helps us in our personal lives and our jobs. Reading tends to make us use our brains more and more effectively.

In many ways, it makes better people of us.

So why would we want to discourage jail and prison inmates from reading? We do.

At first glance, a contract entered into this year by the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation seems like a wonderful idea. It is with a company called Global Tel Link, and it provides for the company to provide electronic tablets to inmates in state prisons.

Allowing inmates to use the tablets for unfettered access to the internet would be a bad idea. So, there are limits on their access.

But one thing prisoners can do with the tablets is read. The tablets given them access to a wide variety of printed material, including thousands of books, from Project Guttenberg. PG is a free online library.

Free to you and me, that is. Inmates who want to use the tablets to read books are charged 3 cents a minute. They can also listen to music and play games at that rate. If they use the tablets to communicate with families, the rate is 25 cents per written message and the same per minute of video time.

Of course, the state gets its cut, 5% of gross revenue from the program.

Corrections officials say it isn’t as if inmates have to pay to read; prisons have libraries of printed material, available free of charge.

But, of course, the online world offers vastly more variety in reading material. And some people just prefer reading on electronic devices.

So the bottom line is that prisoners who want to spend an eight-hour day reading PG’s books have to pay $14.40 for the privilege. Many, perhaps most, simply don’t have that kind of money.

It just doesn’t make sense. We ought to be encouraging, not discouraging, these men and women to read. That would make them better people — less likely to return to lives of crime after they serve their terms. I suspect it also would make our prisons safer.

What would it cost to give the inmates tablets and free reading privileges? State legislators ought to ask, then provide a few bucks to make it happen.

Why? Ask yourself this: What if I told the teenager in my house that he or she ought to read more — and that doing so would cost 3 cents a minute?

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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