Conrad Black to Jail: Time To Give Prisoners Internet Access

Media baron Conrad Black is headed to a low-security prison today, joining the 1% of the American workers who already live in jail. Portfolio has the details of what he’ll find there.

Among the usual jail features: No Internet access. Prisoners are given access to a prison libary and manual typewriters–and that’s it. It’s time we changed this.

The NYT reported last week that 1 in 100 American adults is in prison. If the point of prison is to punish wrongdoing by restricting liberty, the system is doing a fine job. If the point of prison is to extend prisoner punishment and societal alienation beyond the term of the jail sentence–and ensure that prisoners are not “rehabilitated”–then the system is also doing a fine job. We should rethink the second part.

The Internet is now as essential to American education, employment, and productivity as literacy. If we want people to have any chance of building productive lives for themselves (and the rest of us) after they get out of jail, we simply must give them access to the Internet while they’re in jail. While we’re at it, we should offer them online training–and even jobs–in engineering, customer service, editing, researching, and a thousand other areas that can be done remotely via the Internet. In an economy that is desperately short on educated, net-savvy workers, we should consider allowing prisoners to do regular net-based contract work while they’re in jail (with some costs deducted to pay for their incarceration).

Conrad Black will stay literate during his 6 years in the big house, but most of the 1% of our workforce that’s in jail now won’t. When they get out, moreove, they’ll be even farther behind. Giving prisoners Internet access won’t make prison a cushy existence (no worries there). But it will help our economy, our citizens, and, ultimately, our society.

Jail? Fine. But at least give him Internet access.

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