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People in WV Prisons Charged Steep Fees for “Free” Books

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Friday, December 13, 2019   

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – When prison technology company Global Tek Link, or GTL, announced in October that it was providing hundreds of free electronic tablets for West Virginia prisons, it sounded like a compassionate gesture.

But the program comes with a hitch. People who use it have to pay 3 cents per minute to read e-books on the tablets.

That's even though the reading material comes from Project Gutenberg, a free online source, according to Lydia Welker, social media coordinator for the Appalachian Prison Book Project (APBP).

"Permanent usage fees are an exploitative way for GTL to say they're providing 'free books' while charging incarcerated people by the minute to read those books," she states.

In a statement, GTL contends its tablet e-books offer "a supplement to facility libraries," and will be moved to free content with education and career resources.

Welker says with the introduction of tablets into correctional facilities, people in prison and their family members end up paying huge amounts of money, and private companies make millions.

She points out that reading with a meter running just adds financial anxiety to what should be a beneficial experience for the reader – particularly those with low literacy levels or dyslexia.

In West Virginia, the average prison job pays between 4 cents and 58 cents per hour, so reading a long book could be an expensive undertaking.

"At a reading rate of about 30 pages per hour, it would cost $20.16 to read the first Harry Potter book, or about $19.80 to read George Orwell's ‘1984’" Welker states.

The West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation receives a 5% commission on the tablet revenue, which it says will go into an "inmate benefit fund."


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