By Chrstopher Zoukis

News about the JPAY tablet seems to be making the rounds again, even hitting the BuzzFeed wire. The articles have been focused on the special tablets they’ve created to be used in the prison setting (see initial coverage here). We wrote about this important innovation in prison education some time ago, because there’s little doubt as to its utility when it comes to improving access to education behind prison walls. But while the technology itself is marvellous, there’s an important flipside to JPAY’s involvement that also needs to be discussed. Because while JPay is pleased to take responsibility for any gains made in prison education due to their innovations, they’re less likely to want to talk about the financial gouging they exact on prisoners and their loved ones–gouging that fundamentally undermines those educational efforts.

Now, I 100% support the use of these kinds of tablets in the prison setting. However, these articles would have you believe that JPAY is some kind of philanthropic non-profit, committed to reducing recidivism through education, but JPAY is a private company. While certainly as a company, they want to be profitable (and should be), there’s a difference between becoming profitable, and profiting off of others; for JPAY, it’s the latter.

Just read this comment from the BuzzFeed article: “JPay doesn’t make money from Lantern beyond the sale of its tablets, and he’s quick to point out that the company is more of an attempt to improve the correctional system than it is a cash cow.” The “Lantern” they’re referring to is a tablet-based education system being implemented at various prisons. A boon for prison education? Absolutely. But the idea that JPay is a company that operates strictly out of the goodness of their own heart is beyond naive and, quite frankly, offensive to the hundreds of thousands of families pushed nearly to bankruptcy by this same “benevolent” company’s fee structure.

This is the same JPay that charges took in revenue of $50 million in 2013, largely by charging $14 service fees to inmates for whom it takes a month to earn that sum. This is the same JPay that claims ownership over every single document transmitted by inmates and those who communicate with them.

Creating technology that can help people is only a benevolent act when it’s done so with the intention of genuinely benefiting others. I’ll believe JPay is actually concerned with rehabilitation and reducing recidivism when we see them enact policies that stop gouging the very people they claim they want to see succeed.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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