Letter: Organizations Demand Prison E-Book Readers Drop Access Fees During COVID-19

Dave Abel, President and CEO of Aventiv Technologies, Inc (parent company of Securus Technologies and JPay)
Deborah Alderson, CEO of Global Tel Link (GTL)   

We, the undersigned, are a coalition of groups and individuals concerned with the rights and dignity of incarcerated people, as well as with their access to reading materials alongside other sources of information and recreation. We write to ask that you waive your fees for incarcerated people to access digital content on your tablets during this pandemic. 

As we speak, millions of Americans are confined to their homes in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. Yet, they have a multitude of options to continue to engage with the outside world through educational and recreational access to information. In fact, several major companies that offer digital content–like Audible, JSTOR, and Cengage–have taken steps to make more of their content freely available during the pandemic, to help lessen the burden of isolation on readers. 

Incarcerated people, however, only have a small fraction of these options on a regular day, and the Coronavirus pandemic has made their situation immeasurably worse. Every state prison has suspended in-person visits with family and friends, and many have cancelled educational and recreational programming, access to prison libraries, and prison work programs. Many prisons have also responded by “locking down” their incarcerated populations, so that incarcerated people spend all but a few minutes a day in their cells.

In brief, the response of prison administration to an urgent public health danger has also deeply diminished incarcerated people’s access to sources of connection, communication, recreation, and education. 

We know that many concerned groups have called upon you to waive the fees that incarcerated people and their families will struggle to pay especially in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis: Fees such as the costs for phone calls, video calls, and email; account deposit fees; and the fees to access free content on your e-readers. We support these calls, and–given our organizations’ work on incarcerated people’s access to reading materials and other content–want to elaborate on why access fees to e-reader content should be one of the fees that you waive.

The e-tablets that you sell are one of the few ways to access recreational and educational content in prison—especially now, when other options have disappeared. However, even when the content itself has been made available for free, such as through e-books in the public domain offered by Project Gutenberg, incarcerated people are often charged access or per-minute fees that your companies levy. 

These costs can be prohibitive for incarcerated people. Those working prison jobs—now paused by the pandemic—may make as little as four cents an hour. Meanwhile, families supporting incarcerated individuals are among those financially impacted by the pandemic, leaving them particularly unable to shoulder these costs. The American Library Association has concluded that such charges “serve to deepen existing inequities barring free access to information for all people.”

Put simply, charging for access to tablet content during this time will only place further financial and emotional strain on the families of incarcerated people, many of which are among those hardest hit by the fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic. You have the power to lift this burden.

Meanwhile, educational groups–unable to meet with their incarcerated students–are now relying on email to communicate digitally and to share educational content and lessons. But the fees that you charge for such communications mean that both educational groups and incarcerated people must shoulder additional costs for the duration of this pandemic. Incarcerated people should not have to pay a financial price for continuing their education even while under lockdown.

This is a time when all of us, as Americans, are struggling against isolation, disconnection, and fear. That includes incarcerated people. Your tablets can offer them content that serves as a source of recreation and education, as well as a sense of connection to the outside world. 

Such content should be free to access. We call upon you to suspend all charges for accessing digital content on your tablets, and all charges related to educational and other programming that has switched to digital communication during the pandemic, until facilities across the United States have resumed in-person visits, library access, and other programming that has been suspended as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.



PEN America
All of Us or None of Us Central Illinois
All of Us or None of Us Northern New Jersey
American Library Association
Appalachian Prison Book Project
Art and Resistance Through Education (ARTE)
Asheville Prison Books
Beyond Prisons
Book ‘Em – Pittsburgh
Books to Prisoners Seattle
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
Chester Writer’s House
Chicago Books to Women in Prison
College and Community Fellowship
Connecticut Prison Book Connection
Constructing Our Future
Cornell Prison Education Program
Education Justice Project
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Filling the Gap
Forcing Out Recidivism Through Education (F.O.R.T.E.)
Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network
Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop
Freedom to Read Foundation
Friends Committee on Legislation of California
Great Falls Books Through Bars
Harrisburg Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration
Harrisburg Friends Committee on National Legislation
Healing Broken Circles
Human Rights Defense Center
Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison
Jail Guitar Doors
John Howard Association
Justice Arts Coalition
Justice Debate League
Justice Teams Network
Let’s Get Smart
LGBT Books to Prisoners
Museum for Black Innovation & Entrepreneurship
New York State Literary Center
NYC Books Through Bars
Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project
Prison Activist Resource Center (PARC)
Prison Policy Initiative
Prisoner Advocacy Network
Prisoners Literature Project
Revolutionary Scholars Project
Rogue Liberation Library
Root & Rebound
St. James Infirmary
Tennessee Prison Books Project
The American Prison Writing Archive
The Freedom BLOC
The Post-Prison Education Research Lab
The Real Cost of Prisons Project
TheatreWorkers Project
Underground Writing
University Beyond Bars
Urbana-Champaign Books to Prisoners
WA Statewide Family Council
Washington Statewide Family Council
Wisconsin Books to Prisoners
Women Lifers Resume Project of Pennsylvania
Working Narratives
York/Adams White Rose Coalition of Labor Union Women
Youth Arts: Unlocked