News & Politics

Inmates in Five Idaho Prisons Hack Tablets to Steal $225,000 in Digital Credits

Tablet that allows inmates to surf the Internet, play games, and video chat with friends and family is displayed at the Bonneville County Jail in Idaho Falls, Idaho. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP)

Idaho prison officials revealed that they have identified 364 inmates using special prison-issued tablets to add $225,000 in credits to their respective accounts. It’s not real money, but special digital credits that are used in prisons to buy music, play games, read books, and send email using these special tablets. The hacking of the tablets occurred in five different prisons across Idaho.

The tablets were not iPads, but special products developed by a Florida company, JPay, that specializes in providing services to inmates. Because the currency was fictitious, there was no loss to the state.

The credits taken range from tiny amounts to one inmate who credited $11,000 to himself. Fifty inmates transferred more than $1000 each.

JPay began marketing its own line of “prison-proof” MP3 players in 2011 and more recently introduced their own tablet.

The company said it, “Recovered more than $65,000 worth of digital credits from the 364 inmate accounts and the company has suspended the ability to buy games and music via digital credits on the tablets of offending inmates.” They did not remove email capability.

“This conduct was intentional, not accidental,” said Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray in a statement. “It required a knowledge of the JPay system and multiple actions by every inmate who exploited the system’s vulnerability to improperly credit their account.”

If all this seems strange to you – unknown tablets, imaginary currency —  as it did to me, you might want to check out JPay to understand just what the company does. According to their website:

At JPay, we realize the corrections process can be challenging, whether you are dealing with the absence of an incarcerated friend or family member or feeling the pressure of making your next restitution or supervision payment. By providing convenient, relevant services and building strong customer relationships, we hope we can make this process both easier and faster.

JPay is committed to helping friends and family stay connected to their incarcerated loved ones through a variety of corrections-related services offered in more than 35 states across the country, as well as providing quick and reliable payment options for individuals in community corrections. JPay is a highly trusted name in corrections because we offer a fast and secure method of sending money, convenient and function-rich communications services, innovative technologies, and affordable entertainment options, as well as a variety of parole, probation, and post-release services.

Their website offers money transfers, email, and videogram visitations and provides search tools for finding inmates and prisons. With a free registration you can “find your inmate/offender in our system.”

In a 2012 article, Bloomberg reported that JPay wants to become the “Apple of the U.S. prison system.” It notes that JPay “handles money transfers, e-mail communications, and video visitations (all of which are monitored by corrections officers) for more than 1 million prisoners in about 35 states.”