David Holloman has been imprisoned in the harshest portion of James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Del., for a year, barred from his prison job and confined to a cell for all but two and a half hours each day. His in-prison offense? Organizing fellow prisoners to boycott the use of internet-connected tablets and the exploitative costs prisoners are charged to use them, reports USA Today. “It boils down to a consumer complaint,” said Holloman, who before the boycott was treated as a model prisoner: confined to the most comfortable portion of Vaughn and free to come and go from his private cell for several hours each day. “I was stripped of everything,” he said. “I am being punished and retaliated against for exercising my First Amendment rights.”
For years, small internet-connected devices, known as “the tablets,” have given inmates new ways to entertain and educate themselves, as well as a bridge to maintain family and friendship bonds in the outside world. They are charged per-minute rates to use the tablets and video chat with family members, as well as per-message fees to communicate via text messages – all collected in a system operated by a private-equity-owned company that has likely reaped millions from its contract with the state’s prison system. “The tablets are necessary,” Holloman said. “But don’t take advantage of our desperation.” Leaders of Delaware’s prison system defended the tablet system, saying the combination of tablets and telephones provides affordable ways to connect people while minimizing costs to taxpayers. Under a contract signed by the state and ViaPath, the prison telecommunications giant installed technology infrastructure in the prisons and provided the devices at its own cost. In return, they get to charge fees for use. The contract allows prison leaders new ways to surveil prisoners' communication and devices to detect contraband cell phones. Generally, tablets are available to “check out” when prisoners have recreation time, which varies depending on an inmate’s security classification and housing location. Video visits are conducted strictly on tablets anchored in common areas.