Prison Amazon accounts keep federal inmates stuck in the 1990s

Inmates have purchased around $130,000 in vintage video gaming technology since federal prisons opened Amazon accounts very last calendar year, as safety rules keep entertainment options mired many years in the earlier.

Correctional Support Canada (CSC) guidelines forbid inmates from purchasing any technology able of communicating with the outside planet. That implies Canadian penitentiaries are areas where the compact disc never ever died, Smart TVs are unidentified and groundbreaking consoles like the Tremendous Nintendo have endured many years earlier their primary.

Amazon became CSC’s to start with e-commerce provider in January 2022, with a B.C. company signing up for months later on. The intention was to give inmates obtain to wider choice and better selling prices.

It is tested increasingly successful, in accordance to Ghislain Sauvé, CSC director basic of technological expert services and facilities. 

In 2022, inmates acquired $586,000 value of goods using the program. So much this year, purchases have already surpassed $740,000, Sauvé stated.

But even with the world’s largest e-commerce business on board, the inmate purchasing experience remains decidedly low-tech.

Digital items are primarily limited to what CSC termed “1st-technology” consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Tremendous Nintendo and the Nintendo 64, as nicely as the Game Boy and Recreation Boy Progress. 

Close up of a Nintendo Game Boy video game system.
Nintendo’s Video game Boy, very first produced in 1989, is another of the portable gaming possibilities in federal penitentiaries. (Bertand Guay/AFP via Getty Illustrations or photos)

Online accessibility ‘a risk’

The 1994-era PlayStation 1 takes prime place as the most well known console driving bars, with about 159 units procured. 

But the Nintendo Swap, Recreation Boy DS, Wii and GameCube are off boundaries, according to CSC, as are more new PlayStations. Procedures also explicitly forbid any iteration of the Xbox.

“Some of the more modern day consoles can obtain the online,” said Sauvé. “And this is a thing that most likely is a threat.”

Products that browse MP3s are also banned, in accordance to the insurance policies, although Sauvé could not explain why. And the rules prohibit online video-studying products, which signifies inmates can not obtain motion pictures or tv displays and are minimal to cable Television set.

It is their cash … let’s be clear about that. This is not taxpayer money.– Ghislain Sauvé

Own computing is also caught in the 20th century. Less than the guidelines, inmates are not able to use any Microsoft working method extra current than Windows 98 and will have to count on Microsoft Place of work 97 for their word processing and spreadsheet necessities.

Inmates do not have direct accessibility to the Amazon account, in accordance to Sauvé. In its place, they opt for from a paper listing and choose their orders to staff members, who log on and location the buy.

“At some point, a box like you’ve got found on your doorstep will get sent to one particular of our institutions,” he claimed.

The revenue comes from inmate accounts. There are limitations to how substantially just about every prisoner can have: $1,500 of property and an added $300 of jewelry. 

“It is their cash,” stated Sauvé. “So let’s be clear about that. This is not taxpayer funds.”

No cost gouging

The Amazon system is the newest step in a journey that presents offenders far more and better selections, when also saving CSC team pointless exertion.

A long time in the past, buys have been manufactured locally, top to “inconsistencies,” Sauvé stated. 

“It was a little bit of a load on an institution having to have any person [say] ‘OK, your switch to go to Walmart and decide on up some products,'” he said.

So CSC afterwards began performing with a B.C. enterprise identified as Prototype Built-in Solutions Inc. That centralized the procedure, but it had its downsides.

“Shipping periods could be a bit gradual,” Sauvé said “The wide range … it is what it is, but then all over again it is vetted via protection. And I know offenders have been not often joyful with the selling prices.”

That prompted the transfer to Amazon, though Prototype came back again on as the 2nd digital provider previous calendar year. 

A person benefit of using e-commerce platforms is that it blunts any accusations of price tag gouging, according to Sauvé. 

“This is the very same system that you use, or any other Canadian would use,” he stated. “We do not choose a slash. They shell out what is there and they get it delivered.”

Two signs with the word Amazon on them, one in the foreground and one in the background of the photo.
Just one benefit of working with e-commerce platforms like Amazon, Sauvé explained, is that it blunts issues about value gouging. (Pascal Rossignol/Reuters)

Racist, terrorist and genocidal content prohibited

CSC insurance policies restrict more than technological progress powering bars. They also censor written content — for video clip game titles, clothes and even jigsaw puzzles.

The guidelines forbid game titles with any information and facts on how to make medication or weapons, and individuals that could explain how to commit or go over up crimes. Games that advertise “a theory of racial superiority” or incite hatred versus a certain team are also prohibited, as are people that advocate genocide.

The same goes for “substance of a sexual nature that will involve violence, coercion, degradation, bodily harm or threats thereof to a man or woman, irrespective of whether authentic or fictional,” and anything that promotes gangs or terrorist ideology.

CSC was not able to present examples of any sexist, racist or genocidal video games unavailable on its e-commerce accounts in accordance with people procedures.

Vogue is also limited: clothes logos cannot depict gangs, alcoholic beverages, medication, sexuality or violence. Musicians, “pop tradition icons” are in most cases high-quality.

Jigsaw puzzles are subject to similar limits.

Songs appears to be a free of charge-for-all, with “all genres” allowed and no clear limitations on lyrics. But the ban on MP3 players will restrict, or at minimum seriously delay, access to the latest releases.

A grey sign identifying the prison behind it is in the foreground. There's a long, freshly-mowed lawn and in the distance a stone building that looks like a castle and has a red roof.
A sign exterior the Collins Bay Institution, a federal penitentiary with most, medium and minimum security ranges in Kingston, Ont. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The need to have for leisure

CSC did not react to repeated requests for the finish listing of items readily available by means of Amazon and Prototype, referring instead to its written policies for steerage on what is authorized.

But a tendering document that initially declared CSC’s plan to sign a deal with Amazon uncovered extra about the “record of merchandise to be manufactured available to inmates.” It included geometry sets, acoustic guitars and harmonicas, as effectively as hacksaws, carving tools, mallets, drills and X-Acto knives.

Questioned why inmates would will need access to those people probably hazardous instruments, Sauvé pointed to Indigenous cultural methods and “arts and crafts.”

“It can be not like they are just handed instruments and listed here you go,” he stated. “You can find a ton of unique guidelines and steps in place to make confident which is performed safely and securely.”

He also discussed that acquiring alternatives differ concerning safety amounts. Medium-security inmates can purchase scissors, suspenders and moustache trimmers, in accordance to the guidelines, but those items are off limitations in greatest-safety prisons.

Geometry sets are explicitly prohibited for both stability lessons, although the procedures are silent on minimal safety. They do not clarify which prisoners have obtain to hacksaws.

Questioned why inmates serving sentences for legal activity should enjoy these kinds of a vast array of solutions, including a assortment of classic gaming consoles, Sauvé pointed to the universal human need for leisure.

“They’re going to serve their time in an institution. While they are there, there is [programming] to assist their rehabilitation,” he explained. 

“Leisure time forms element of that way too,” Sauvé added. “It is for them to choose how they are going to commit some of that time, I guess, just like it is for you in your have household.”