The Magazine

Internet Access for Prisoners?

Don’t scoff; it would be a good idea

Jul 22, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 42 • By ELI LEHRER
Widget tooltip
Audio version Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

But even less scholarly uses of the Internet would be useful. Electronic books and informational websites would open up new opportunities to prisoners at no cost to taxpayers. At worst, this would simply prevent idleness, the main cause of violence behind bars.

To be sure, there are real barriers to allowing Internet access behind bars. Monitoring use and designing properly controlled and limited web-based systems present challenges. Most federal prisoners earn modest wages that would allow them to pay for Internet time, but getting to that point where effective monitoring is possible would still require someone to make an upfront investment. Then there is the risk of scandal that would erupt the first time inmates pulled an Internet scam.

All that said, allowing Internet access in prison makes sense: It would open up new worlds for offenders and offer them a better path towards rehabilitation​—​all at no cost to taxpayers.

Eli Lehrer is president of the R Street Institute.

Recent Blog Posts