Many holiday shoppers will go to stores like Best Buy, Circuit City, and the Apple Store to buy the latest technology for their friends and family. Their purchases will include iPods, laptops, Blackberrys, and digital cameras. Would you believe that some Americans are asking for typewriters and cassette players this holiday season? Would you believe that some having been saving for these items for years and still desperately want them? For the more than one percent of Americans that are incarcerated, iPods and computers are beyond their reach. The technology available to inmates is the technology that Americans on the “outside” last saw decades ago. Some inmates in American prisons have never used a cell phone or the internet. They are in a technological time warp and some will soon return to the outside world, a world that has rapidly progressed in its technology while they served their time behind bars.
The items that prisoners in Illinois are permitted to have are determined by the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). The Department’s main concern is safety—both of the staff and of the inmates. Computers and devices like iPods, which hold the capacity to exchange and store large amounts of information, are too complex to be regulated by the IDOC. However, though inmates do not have access to computers, it is recognized that inmates need to be able to produce readable documents as many inmates appeal their case. At Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois, typewriters can be ordered through the prison’s commissary. The commissary was founded in 1930 and it offers the latest technology available to prisoners like the Sintec 2410 typewriter for $279.54. The typewriter is specifically designed for use in prisons, made with clear plastic to deter inmates from trying to conceal contraband inside the machine. Other items on the commissary product list include art supplies, beverages, clothing, shoes, towels, blankets, electronics, food, games, housewares like bowls and mugs, toiletries, vitamins, and office supplies. The most expensive item is the typewriter; the least expensive is a legal envelope for 16 cents.