Internet Behind Bars: Reality or Utopia?

Internet Behind Bars: Reality or Utopia?

Carmen-Rocio Fernandez-Diaz (University of Malaga, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5975-7.ch001
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This chapter focuses on the relevance of information and communication technologies (hereinafter, ICTs) as an essential part of the day-to-day life of all societies nowadays. Nevertheless, a means that continue to be behind this reality is the penitentiary area regarding inmates' rights. Introducing ICTs within prison could improve the social reinsertion of persons serving a prison sentence. Deprivation of liberty entails normal contact with the prison subculture and the harmful effects of it, causing in cases of long-term sentences the so-called phenomenon of “prisonization.” This negative effect of imprisonment could be reduced if ICTs were used inside prisons in the different areas where they can have an impact, and which are treated in this research, as (1) access to information and culture, (2) basic and advanced training, (3) employment, (4) communication with the outside world, (5) treatment, or (6) leisure and entertainment. The value that new technologies would add to these areas in prison constitutes a way of humanization of prisons in the twenty-first century.
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Information and communication technologies (hereinafter, ICTs) are currently an essential part of the everyday life of all societies, as they offer the stage where a huge number of behaviors that used to take place in the physical world are carried out. Thus, interpersonal communication, the purchase of any object or service, the performance of various leisure, work or training activities, take place in the virtual space.

In this context, areas of reality that have remained outside the so-called “information society” are hardly imaginable. The immediacy and comfort that ICTs offer for the realization of any activity that can be carried out through them, position them in a privileged place in front of the traditional ways. Thus, in relation to the world of crime, ICTs have been applied not only in the area of penalties, with the introduction of probation period and electronic monitoring (Mata y Martín, 2014), but also, within the prison environment, technical mechanisms have been already used in one of its two pillars, the penitentiary system, such as, for example, body search, X-rays or the intervention of communications (De Marcos Madruga, 2014, pp. 235-237; Weinrath, 2016, p. 171).

However, it is possible to identify a means that keeps its back to this reality in the penitentiary environment, and it is in relation to the prisoner's rights and treatment. If we take a look, for example, to written communications system in prison, it can easily be seen how this is generally based, in the reality of Spanish prisons in which focuses this work, on the sending of letters and telegrams. This is established by the Spanish prison regulations in Real Decreto 190/1996, of 9 February, which approves the Reglamento Penitenciario (Prison Regulations) of 1996 (hereinafter, RP). This last text is the one that develops the content of the Ley Orgánica 1/1979, of September 26, General Penitenciaria (General Penitentiary Law) of 1979 (hereinafter, LOGP), whose articles 51 to 53 establish general rules on communications and visits in prison. The mere fact that the Spanish regulation of this aspect dates from years, and its lack of subsequent modification, already presages a great obsolescence in this area.

The idea of introducing the Internet in prison generates stupefaction in society, as it usually generates the inmate's enjoyment of leisure activities considered “privileges”, because in this context normally operate the idea put forward by Garland (2003), in virtue of which “…any show of compassion for offenders, any invocation of their rights, any effort to humanize their punishments, can easily be represented as an insult to victims and their families” (p. 143). This idea, as Jewkes (2009) points out regarding the United Kingdom and that can be extrapolated to other national realities, is consolidated by the mainstream press, that generally report prisons as ‘holidays camps’ in which inmates enjoy luxuries they do not ‘deserve’, which serves to “further stigmatise a population which is already at the margins and which rarely has a right of reply” (pp. 171-172).

An example of this is the presence of swimming pools in prisons (Daunis, 2016, p. 161; El Confidencial Digital, 24/08/2013), exit permits when they were introduced (Tocino, 2014, p. 29) or televisions in the cells (Knight, 2016, pp. 96-97). However, in the field of new technologies, social rejection may be even greater, since, as the latter author points out in another work, unlike “to the one-way nature of television”, internet in the context of the prison supposes “that the prisoner can ‘reach’ outside world and the world can also reach them” (Knight, 2015, p. 3).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Prisonization: The adaptation and acceptance of the life and culture within prison.

Inmate: A person who is serving an imprisonment sentence in prison, deprived of his or her liberty.

Resocialization: The process of going back to life in freedom after serving an imprisonment sentence.

Internet: A form of information and communication technology that can access, send or store data or communicate with others through different devices, such as cell phones or computers.

Recidivism: To commit a new crime after having served an imprisonment sentence.

Prison: A facility where a person, who is sentenced to imprisonment after committing a crime, serves his or her sentence, deprived of liberty.

Information and Communication Technologies: Different ways of telecommunications normally used to access, send, or store information and to communicate through them.

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