Waaah. Rappahannock Jail Inmates Don’t Get Free Wi-Fi.

Shelly Tibbs. Photo credit: the Free Lance-Star

by James A. Bacon

I’m guessing that we’re supposed to feel sorry for Shelley Tibbs, whose sorrowful tale is told in a Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star article about “prison profiteering.”

Ms. Tibbs’s son was booked into Rappahannock Regional Jail one recent Friday — on what charges, we are not told. All we know is that he had served a previous sentence for seven months and has suffered from substance-abuse issues. Whatever the particulars, the Free Lance-Star informs us that within days of her son’s incarceration Ms. Tibbs had deposited almost $100 into his JailATM account so he could order from the canteen, listen to music, stream movies, write emails, and call her. In his previous incarceration, she had spent more than $400 monthly on his extras, going into debt to do so.

It seems that jails across the country charge for extras that make life in jail and prison more pleasant. According to the FLS, the Rappahannock facility generated almost $2.8 million from commissions, more than any other jail in the state. And the ACLU, which has largely abandoned protecting the individual liberties of Americans in favor of championing “social justice” causes, finds “prison profiteering” to be reprehensible. Not just reprehensible but racist.

The militants combating prison profiteering deem it an injustice that, nationally, families spend roughly $3 billion a year to support their “loved ones” in jail on top of the almost $81 billion that taxpayers already pay to support prisons, jails, parole and probation. Black, Hispanic and indigenous people disproportionately bear the cost of the extras. Oh, and women, too, because it appears that fathers typically aren’t in the picture — or, if they are, they don’t share the mothers’ desire to spare their sons the discomposure of life in jail.

“This issue of the cost behind incarceration becomes not just a criminal justice issue, but also an economic justice issue, a racial justice issue, and gender justice issue that we need to take a look at,” the FLS quotes Bianca Tylek, executive director of New York-based Worth Rises, as saying.

Of course, every issue these days has been re-cast in light of racism, sexism, and homophobia.

Here’s what you won’t see in the FLS article: any discussion of why inmates are allowed to pay for meals, snacks, music, and movies in the first place. Since when did that become a thing? Since when are inmates provided what the FLS refers to as “jail-issued tablets”? Naively, I thought one purpose of incarcerating people was to deny them the pleasures of everyday life — to make life undesirable enough to induce them to try harder not to return.

I will concede that some of the Rappahannock jail charges struck me as excessive. According to the FLS, writing emails costs 25 cents per word. Calling home from the tablet cost Tibbs $6 for 15 minutes. But the story contains no explanation from jail officials of the basis for the charges. Nor, despite accusations of prison “profiteering,” does the story tell us how much profit the Rappahannock jail made on the $2.8 million in revenue. State policy dictates that any profits, such as they are, must be set aside to benefit the inmates.

What is the implication here? That taxpayers should pick up the tab for providing inmates with tablets, music, streaming video, and candy bars from the canteen?

It may be worthwhile drawing a distinction between expenditures for personal consumption and expenditures for purposes that would improve an inmate’s odds of rehabilitation. Education and reading should be encouraged. Fitness, health and hygiene should be encouraged. Maintaining connections with family members should be encouraged. My initial reaction was that it sounded terrible to charge Tibbs $6 for a 15-minute conversation with his mother. But, upon reflection, I realized that was likely a Facetime chat. Is anyone being unjustly deprived if they are charged for such a nicety, which presumably costs the jail to provide, especially when inmates have access to prison phones?

The FLS article goes on to describe the plight of other women who support their sons in jail. Dawn Clark of Stafford estimates she has spent about $600 monthly over the year her son has been in the jail so he can use the tablet, order from the commissary, receive a subscription to the daily newspaper, and call her twice a day. “I go without stuff for him,” she said. “I can think of a lot of stuff I could do with $600.”

Michelle Gray of Spotsylvania is supporting her son to the tune of $200 monthly from her fixed income of disability and Social Security payments. “I try to do what I can to make it as easy as it can be in there,” she said.

Not to sound cruel, but perhaps these mothers are part of the problem. Their sons committed crimes. The public purpose is not being served by making it “as easy as it can be” in jail. Inmates should pay a price in having their liberties curtailed. What son wants to talk to his mother two times a day? This isn’t about the sons, it’s about mothers who can’t disconnect from their sons. As described by the FLS, these mothers sound like they’re enabling their sons’ behavior.

The coddling of criminals has reached new pinnacles of absurdity. Do the ACLU and Free Lance-Star have no causes more worthy of their attention?

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12 responses to “Waaah. Rappahannock Jail Inmates Don’t Get Free Wi-Fi.”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’m not in favor of punitive treatment just to be punitive. These folks made mistakes and they have to do the time but this sounds like piling on to me.

    Further, this demonstrates exactly the difference between the haves and have nots.. The inmate with rich parents is going to have an easier ride while those on the other end are going to have a harder time -same crime – different time.

    Finally, this is how folks on the lower economic scale end up with tougher lives , some of their own doing and some of it done to them by a system that makes a joke of the word “rehabilitation” – all these folks will “learn” is the cruelty of our criminal justice system. Violent offenders, yes, lock em up and keep em locked up but many of these folks in the regional jail are coming back out into society again – and you and I interact with them every single day – we just don’t know it.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Bribe was the right word on another article. Profiteering is the correct word here. Look hard for kickbacks and I bet you will find the boodle.

    2. Not to mention profiteering incentivizes longer prison terms and denying bail. This will naturally impact poorer inmates who cannot afford the legal representation to fight bogus legal action from prison. And, as an aside, why private prisons should be outlawed.

      Prison is to keep bad actors out of society: they are not supposed to be torture chambers. I think we’ve had enough decades of “tough on crime” prison laws to prove any deterrent arguments unsound, so perhaps we can improve the conditions of prisons to focus on rehabilitation as opposed to punishment.

      And yes, this has a racial lens because certain races are more liable to commit crime due to disproportionate socioeconomic status and racial bias causing more frequent arrests and harsher sentencing.

  2. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

    And no one is going to use taxpayer-funded Internet access to foster the commission of other crimes (e.g., contraband, drug sale and, in extreme cases, setting up a hit against a witness) using an app on a tablet. The FCC, under both Democratic and Republican leadership, has worked tirelessly with law enforcement to keep cellphones out of jails and prisons. At the present time, federal law prohibits jamming cellphone transmissions in jails and prisons. It’s illegal to knowingly interfere with any radio transmission.

    And, of course, any communication from a prisoner (except to his attorney) is monitored.

    Communications vendors generally pay commissions to jails and prisons that, in turn, add to their funding. The costs are, of course, passed along to prisoners and their families.

  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Prisoners are entitled to research and prepare appeals of their convictions. The internet is an important source for necessary information.

  4. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    No, JAB, the extras charged for tend to line the pockets of the providers and sometimes the sheriff’s coffers. Please back off the canard of “coddling criminals” until society adopts its full responsibility to rehabilitate them. The 13th Amendments exception to involuntary servitude should not offer an excuse to less than humane treatment. The loss of freedom and the right to vote are serious enough. Adding insult to injury by using prison labor to underwrite commercial for profit activities while not paying minimum wages is only adding to the depredation.

    1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

      Where does society’s responsibility to rehabilitate criminals derive? The first purposes of prison are punishment and separation of dangerous people from society. Of course, there should be services available for rehabilitation, such as counseling, medical treatment and education. But communications between prisoners and the outside world (except for those with counsel) need to be and are heavily monitored.

      Internet access can be an important part of a prisoner’s ability to research the law, as many prisoners make pro se appeals. But access can and should be limited to approved websites.

      I’d support higher wages for prisoners if they also had to contribute to the costs of their board and room. Earning a higher wage and being responsible for one’s cost of living could well increase a prisoner’s self-esteem in a good way.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        TMT – I’m sorta surprised, not shocked that you first question the premise of rehabilitation and then turn around and say “of course there should be rehabilitation services”.

        I don’t understand.

        If you don’t believe that people want to improve their lives , then the first crime is the end, right?

        1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

          Larry, please read my comments carefully. I did not say that rehabilitation of prisoners was not a purpose of prisons. What I said is that it is not the chief purpose. Punishment and public safety are much more important. This does not prohibit offering rehabilitation services. But ultimately, each person needs to make a decision whether or not to try to change one’s life.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            and the prison system need to incentivize that, not do the opposite…

            We don’t want people in prison, TMT. THey cost us 30K a year, 3 times what we pay to educate people.

          2. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

            Larry, we do want some people in prison. There are many evil people in this world who engage in terrible crimes against other people. Many murderers have stated that, if they were ever released, they would surely kill again. Ted Bundy could not be rehabilitated.

            This does not mean that no one can be rehabilitated. First offenders, absent violence or a very serious crime, are often good candidates for lighter sentences and rehabilitation. A person with a significant history of crime can decide to change his ways. But there are many people who need to be in prison because they have done horrible things and are apt to do them again.

  5. Lefty665 Avatar

    writing emails costs 25 cents per word

    Don’t get any ideas JAB. OTOH, that would cut down a lot of our blather here.

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