Prison Amazon accounts keep federal inmates stuck in the 1990s | CBC News (2024)

Inmates havepurchased roughly $130,000 in vintage video gaming technologysince federal prisonsopenedAmazon accounts last year,as security ruleskeepentertainmentoptions mired decades in the past.

Correctional Service Canada (CSC) policies forbid inmates from buying any technology capable of communicating with the outside world. That means Canadian penitentiaries are places where the compact disc never died, Smart TVs are unknown and pioneering consoles like the Super Nintendohave endured decades past their prime.

Amazon became CSC's first e-commerce supplier in January 2022, with a B.C. company joining months later. The aim was to give inmates access to wider choice and better prices.

It's proven increasingly successful, according to GhislainSauvé, CSCdirector general of technical services and facilities.

In 2022, inmates bought $586,000 worth of goods using the system. So far this year, purchases havealready surpassed $740,000, Sauvé said.

  • CBC Investigates'Drone pandemic' sees drugs, weapons, cellphones smuggled into Kingston prison

But even with the world's largest e-commerce company on board, the inmate purchasing experience remains decidedlylow-tech.

Electronic goods are mostly limited to what CSC called "first-generation" consoleslike the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo and the Nintendo 64, as well as the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance.

Prison Amazon accounts keep federal inmates stuck in the 1990s | CBC News (1)

Internet access 'a risk'

The 1994-era PlayStation 1 takes top spot as the most popular console behind bars, with about 159 units purchased.

But the Nintendo Switch, Game Boy DS,Wii and GameCube are off limits, according to CSC, as are more recent PlayStations. Policies also explicitly forbid any iteration of the Xbox.

"Some of the more modern consoles can access the internet," said Sauvé. "And this is something that potentially is a risk."

Devices that read MP3s are also banned, according to the policies, althoughSauvé could not explain why. And the rulesprohibit video-reading devices, which means inmates cannot buy movies or television shows and are limited to cable TV.

It is their money ... let's be clear about that. This is not taxpayer money.- Ghislain Sauvé

Personal computing is likewise stuck in the 20th century. Under the policies, inmates cannot use any Microsoft operating system more recent than Windows 98and must rely on Microsoft Office 97 for their word processing and spreadsheet requirements.

Inmates do not have direct access to the Amazon account, according to Sauvé. Instead, they choose from apaper list and take their orders to staff, who log onand place the order.

"At some point, a box like you've seen on your doorstep will get delivered to one of our institutions," he said.

The money comes from inmate accounts. There are limits to how much each prisoner can possess: $1,500 of property and an additional $300 of jewellery.

"It is their money," said Sauvé. "So let's be clear about that. This is not taxpayer money."

No price gouging

The Amazon system is the latest step in a journey that gives offenders more and better choices, while alsosavingCSC staff unnecessary effort.

Years ago, purchases were made locally, leading to "inconsistencies," Sauvé said.

"It was a bit of a burden on an institution having to have somebody [say] 'OK, your turn to go to Walmart and pick up some items,'" he said.

So CSC later began working with a B.C. company called Prototype Integrated Solutions Inc. That centralized the process, but it had its drawbacks.

"Delivery times could be a bit slow," Sauvé said "The variety is what it is, but then again it's vetted through security. And I know offenders were not always happy with the prices."

That prompted the move to Amazon, though Prototype came back on as the second electronic supplier last year.

One advantage of using e-commerce platformsis that it blunts any accusations of price gouging, according toSauvé.

"This is the same system that you use, or any other Canadian would use," he said. "We don't take a cut. They pay what's there and they get it delivered."

Prison Amazon accounts keep federal inmates stuck in the 1990s | CBC News (2)

Racist, terrorist and genocidal content prohibited

CSC policies limit more than technological progress behind bars. They also censor content — for video games, clothing and even jigsaw puzzles.

The rules forbid games with any information on how to make drugs or weapons, and those that could explain how to commit or cover up crimes. Games that promote "a theory of racial superiority" or incite hatred against a specific group are also prohibited, as are those that advocate genocide.

The same goes for "material of a sexual nature that involves violence, coercion, degradation, bodily harm or threats thereof to a person, whether real or fictional," and anything that promotes gangs or terrorist ideology.

CSC was unable to provide examples of any sexist, racist or genocidal games unavailable on its e-commerce accounts in accordance with those policies.

  • Canada failing Black, Indigenous prisoners as overrepresentation persists: report

Fashion is also restricted: clothing logos cannot depict gangs, alcohol, drugs, sexuality or violence. Musicians,"pop culture icons" are in most cases fine.

Jigsaw puzzles are subject to similar restrictions.

Music appears to be a free-for-all, with "all genres" allowed and no apparent restrictions on lyrics. But the ban on MP3players will limit, or at least severely delay, access to the newest releases.

Prison Amazon accounts keep federal inmates stuck in the 1990s | CBC News (3)

The need for leisure

CSC did not respond to repeated requests for the complete list of items available through Amazon and Prototype, referringinstead to its writtenpolicies for guidance on what is allowed.

But a tendering document that first announced CSC'splan to sign a deal with Amazon revealed more about the "list of goods to be made available to inmates." Itincludedgeometry sets, acoustic guitars andharmonicas, as well ashacksaws, carving tools, mallets, drills and X-Acto knives.

Asked why inmates would need access to those potentially dangerous tools, Sauvé pointed to Indigenous cultural practices and "arts and crafts."

"It's not like they're just handed tools and here you go," he said. "There's a lot of different policies andsteps inplace to make sure that's done safely."

He also explained that purchasing options differ between security levels. Medium-security inmates can order scissors, suspenders and moustache trimmers, according to the policies, but those items are off limits in maximum-security prisons.

Geometry sets are explicitly prohibited for both security classes, though the policies are silent on minimum security. Theydo not clarify which prisoners have access to hacksaws.

Asked why inmates serving sentences for criminal activity shouldenjoy such a wide range of products, including a selection of vintage gaming consoles, Sauvé pointed to the universal human need for leisure.

"They're going to serve their time in an institution. While they're there, there's [programming] to help their rehabilitation," he said.

"Leisure time forms part of that too," Sauvé added. "It's for them to decide how they're going to spend some of that time, I guess, just like it is for you in your own home."

Prison Amazon accounts keep federal inmates stuck in the 1990s | CBC News (2024)


Prison Amazon accounts keep federal inmates stuck in the 1990s | CBC News? ›

Prison Amazon accounts keep federal inmates stuck in the 1990s. E-commerce platforms are helping prisoners save money, but security rules mean that when it comes to entertainment, their choices are limited — and decidedly retro.

Can you send books from Amazon to federal inmates? › makes deliveries to prisons. However, we recommend that you contact the prison first to confirm that they accept deliveries and to ask about any special policies they have. The label on the outside of the package should only state the destination address, company name, and return address.

What was the federal prison population during the 1990s? ›

During this period the number of state and federal prisoners rose substantially, from 789,610 to 1,252,830 – a 59% increase in just seven years. The rate of incarceration (number of prisoners per 100,000 population) rose from 313 to 461, an increase of 47%.

Can inmates get packages from Amazon? ›

In order to do this, you will need to write the correctional facility's initials as a PO box number. If you do this, Amazon will have to ship it using USPS. Just ensure that you check with the prison beforehand and ensure that they do indeed have a PO box. Most prisons in the US do.

Where do federal prisoners go after sentencing? ›

In some instances, federal detainees can be held at local county jails pending trial and sentencing. If an individual is convicted and sentenced to prison, he or she will be housed in any of the BOP prisons or detentions centers.

What books are banned in federal prisons? ›

  • "Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars," detailing how to make different recipes in a cell, is the most banned book.
  • The self-help book, "The 48 Laws of Power," was the second most commonly banned title. "The Art of War" was also commonly censored.
Oct 29, 2023

Who sends free books to inmates? ›

Books to Prisoners is a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that mails free books to incarcerated individuals across the United States. An all-volunteer group that distributes paperback books free of charge to incarcerated people nationwide, focusing on all women and trans/non-binary people.

Who is 93 percent of the prison population? ›

Category 1: Gender, Age, Race/Ethnicity

Among other findings: Most (93 percent) incarcerated adults are men. In comparison, men make up just about half (49 percent) of the general public. The majority (72 percent) of incarcerated adults are 44 years of age or younger.

How many new prisons were built between 1990 and 1995? ›

Corrections officials have built 213 state and Federal prisons from 1990 to 1995 to cope with a quickly expanding inmate population, the Justice Department reported today.

What is the prison inmate labor initiative of 1990? ›

The Joint Venture Program (JVP) is responsible for implementing the Prison incarcerated individual Labor Initiative, Proposition 139, passed by the voters in 1990. Under its provisions, private businesses can set up operations inside California correctional facilities and hire incarcerated individuals.

Is it a felony to open an Amazon package? ›

In the U.S. it is a federal crime to tamper with the mail. Stealing a porch package is considered mail theft and believe it or not, you can face either federal or state charges. If you are charged with a federal crime, you could face up to five years in jail.

Is it a federal crime to open Amazon packages? ›

Federal law, specifically Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1708, addresses the theft and possession of mail. This statute extends to packages delivered by USPS, making the theft of Amazon packages, among others, a federal offense.

Can inmates mail sperm? ›

California inmates have no constitutional right to impregnate their wives by mailing sperm from prison, a sharply divided federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled Thursday.

How much time do you serve on a 5 year federal sentence? ›

Here's an example: a prisoner is serving a term of imprisonment of five years (1,826 days, including an extra day for a leap year). His conduct is excellent and he earns all possible good time. He should serve 85% of each year sentenced: He should earn 54 days of good time as he completes each set of 311 days.

What is a level 2 federal inmate? ›

What is meant by security levels? Level I – Facilities and Camps consist primarily of open dormitories with a low security perimeter. Level II – Facilities consist primarily of open dormitories with a secure perimeter, which may include armed coverage.

What is the most common crime in federal prisons? ›

Most Common Type of Crime
Crime TypeNumber of Individuals
Drug Trafficking65,096 65,096 65,096
Firearms20,701 20,701 20,701
Sexual Abuse9,396 9,396 9,396
Robbery9,255 9,255 9,255
7 more rows

What kind of books can you send to inmates? ›

All books must be new and soft cover (no hardcover or spiral bound) We are required to ship via USPS. You must supply the inmate's name and ID number with the facility mailing address.

Can I have books sent to me in jail? ›

You can usually send books and magazines, as long as they come directly from the publisher or a large, established bookseller. This means the books must be shipped new and unopened from someone like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. You cannot buy books yourself and mail them from your home or they will be rejected.

Can federal inmates have hardcover books? ›

In addition to letters, federal prisoners are permitted to receive hardcover and softcover books, magazines, photos, and newspapers.

Does Barnes and Noble ship books to inmates? ›

Most correctional facilities will accept only USPS parcels. If your order must be shipped by USPS, you need to check the box at the bottom that states: "Address can't be serviced by UPS". Select this box while adding the Correctional Facility as a shipping address during the Checkout process.

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