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Laura E. Bedard, Ph.D. Women in Corrections
with Laura E. Bedard, Ph.D.

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How the digital divide impacts inmates

Inmates are not provided internet access in prison, and justifiably so

While teaching a class of inmates last month, I was reminded of how little some of them know. We were talking about Margaret Thatcher and I asked a young man if he knew who she was.

He replied, "Why yes Warden she was the Prime Minister." I followed up by asking "where?" and he replied, "Why she was the Prime Minister of the World."

Not unusual I suppose; especially if you grew up in prison and never went to public school.  He had attended the school of hard knocks.

We continued the conversation and the class started talking about what they didn’t know. Most had never written a check or had a lawful job. They had never completed a job application. They were surprised to learn the teenage mutant ninja turtles Leonardo (Leonardo Da Vinci), Donatello (Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi), Michelangelo (Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni) and Raphael (Raphael Sanzio) were named after famous painters.

The inmates had never written a thank you note nor did they know how to set a table. As a matter of fact, most had spent the majority of their lives eating with a "spork."

I then began to think: These guys had all been locked up a long time; most since prior to their 13th birthday. They were worried about surviving, not learning.  Some have long sentences ahead of them. What other information are they missing?

It hit me: Technology. I had read about the digital divide – the concept that information would be accessed by the wealthy and not the poor due to technological advances. Yes, perhaps even decades will pass by as they do their time.

Inmates are not provided internet access in prison, and justifiably so. With technology changing so rapidly, the few computer programs available for them to use are outdated almost before they open them.

Most job applications now are online. I know my company is paperless when applying for employment. Even big employers like Publix and McDonald's have an online version of their application.

The digital divide impacts many aspects of life including economic equality, social mobility, and educational opportunity. Many economic opportunities are available on-line and accessible to those with access.

Many social service programs now have applications on line and without access some people may not be able to access the services they are entitled to.

Social mobility through Facebook and other social media sites are limited without proper access to the internet. Educational opportunities as well, now that most colleges and universities are online.

In 1995, the United States Commerce Department found tremendous racial, economic and geographic disparity between those who could get on the Internet and those who could not.  It is said that the urban, upper class not only have greater access to the Internet, but have great access to high speed, high efficiency Internet.

This allows the wealthy to access information at a greater rate that the poor and working class. How many poor people do you know that own an IPad? What is the future of these inmates? What kind of digital divide is being created for them?  And, will we be writing about them in the next decade as the newest population to suffer from the digital divide?


About the author

Laura E. Bedard began her work in corrections as a jail administrator in 1984. She has served on the administrative faculty for the College of Criminology at Florida State University for 17 years. During her tenure at the University, she ran a study abroad program in the Czech Republic lecturing on crime topics in an emerging democracy.

In 2005, she became the first female Deputy Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections. There she was responsible for 27,000 state employees and over 200,000 offenders in the third largest correctional system in the country.

Dr. Bedard has published and lectured world wide on a number of corrections-related topics including women in prison, mental health issues and correctional leadership. Dr. Bedard is currently serving as the warden at the Eden Detention Center in Texas.

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