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Private corrections service JPay, has introduced a new Linux-based tablet designed specifically for the two million prisoners it services across 34 US states. The company has previously launched its JP4 tablet – with around 60,000 in use across US prisons today – but the new JP5mini has one big advantage; it can connect to wireless networks, which many prisons are beginning to implement.

The JP5mini is an entry-level tablet designed specifically for the harsh realities of modern prisons; costing just $70, it offers a small 4.3-inch display and 32GB internal storage, allowing inmates to access music, email, video chat and more. The tablet runs a locked down version of Android and offers a censored experience designed to ensure that inmates remain connected with the outside world and are able to fit back into community once they’ve served their time.

Designing a device for use inside a prison has meant the company has had to be innovative in its approach to some pretty unique problems, including ensuring the devices aren’t used as a weapon or a vehicle to smuggle items into the prison. As a result, the JP5mini is unique in many ways, as JPay CEO Ryan Shaprio, told TechCrunch:

“All of our tablets are constructed out of clear, polycarbonate plastic to ensure no contraband is brought into the prisons through the device. The JP5mini was built with a secure boot loader so no other operating system could be installed, ensuring that an inmate doesn’t manipulate the system in any way.”

On the outside, the JP5mini sounds impressive and is built like a tank; it is shockproof, waterproof and has been drop-tested from a height of 30 feet. Even if thrown against a solid wall, the tablet won’t break which is probably a good thing given if it break, the pieces could make a lethal weapon.

On the inside however, the specs are woeful, although this is unsurprising given it costs just $70. The JP5mini is powered by a dual-core processor with Linux OS and a secure bootloader to prevent the other platforms from being installed. The key reason JPay chose Linux over Android is that while inmates can use the tablet to send messages and email, all communications – incoming and outgoing – are manually monitored and individually approved by prison staff. As such, the age-old method of screening inmate communications is still in place.

The JP5mini is quote as offering up to 35 hours music playback or 12 hours of video playback off a single charge, which is certainly impressive given the low price and the fact that many normal tablets can’t achieve this. From August this year, the company also plans to launch its own app store allowing inmates to buy games and other apps.

The discussion around whether inmates require technology is certainly one that splits opinion but my opinion is that the point of a correctional facility is to ensure that inmates reform and are able to assimilate back into society once they have paid their dues. As technology ever advances, the need to expose inmates – especially those who have been locked up for a long period of time – to technology, even if basic, becomes ever greater and while the JP5mini won’t win any awards, it should help introduce inmates to technology in its most basic form. Do you agree? Let us know your views in the comments!

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