Prisoners shouldn’t have email

Even though the Bedford County Prison’s new online system is projected to save money by streamlining the jail’s commissary system, not so palatable is the fact that it also will provide for limited email access for inmates.

That email provision runs contrary to many people’s belief that a prison, as a facility for prisoners to pay their debt to society, should not be a place offering amenities of home.

Inmates gave up their right to such amenities when they broke the law. Thus, it’s reasonable for Bedford County taxpayers to be upset about the county commissioners’ action on Dec. 31, to make the email perk available to individuals who don’t in any way deserve it.

If the online system would have been cheaper for county taxpayers without prisoner email access, that is the direction that the commissioners should have proceeded.

Bedford County isn’t the only Pennsylvania county where officials have made the privilege available, and it’s also available at some state prisons. But wherever the privilege is offered amounts to an insult to the people who go to work each day and, through their taxes, pay for the upkeep of those who have chosen not to be law-abiding, productive members of society.

But there are other ways hardworking people are insulted by the treatment accorded to prisoners.

One example:

On most days, Butler County’s new prison, located in the city of Butler’s downtown, sounds like a recreational or athletic-training facility. People who pass that jail on their way to and from work – or for any other reason – are “treated” to the noisy sounds of prisoner basketball games and other competition, loud laughter, as well as expletives being shouted without respect for passers-by, whether they be adults or children.

From the first day of the new prison’s operation, out of respect to law-abiding citizens, Butler officials should have limited the noisy “fun and games” to times when they would be out of earshot of most workers in that city.

However, that didn’t happen.

As for Bedford County, it’s adequate for inmates to have their mail delivered the old-fashioned way, without any extra expense for taxpayers, although some or all of that expense would be recouped over time by a 50-cents-per-email fee.

And although Bedford officials say filters that are part of the online system would flag suspicious messages for review by the prison staff, there’s likely no way those officials can guarantee that inmate computer correspondences never could be used for illegal purposes by a “creative” prisoner.

Online access isn’t a perk that Blair County Prison inmates enjoy, and the Blair jail received a hard lesson in prisoner creativity last year when an inmate allegedly found a way around computer restrictions and sent threats to local news outlets.

That Blair experience should have made Bedford County officials rethink what they were planning to do. Obviously it didn’t; the commissioners voted on the last day of 2013 to move ahead.

Prisons exist for the purpose of requiring lawbreakers to pay their debt to society – and that should happen without unnecessary expenses for, or insults to, taxpayers.

The Bedford commissioners can only hope that their decision never backfires.