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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho prison officials: inmates hacked system to get credits

Inmates walk to the dinning hall from their cell block June 15, 2010, at the Idaho State Correctional Institution outside Boise, Idaho. (Charlie Litchfield / AP)
By Rebecca Boone Associated Press

BOISE – Idaho prison officials say 364 inmates hacked the JPay tablets they use for email, music and games and collectively transferred nearly a quarter million dollars into their own accounts.

The department’s special investigations unit discovered the problem earlier this month, and the improper conduct involved no taxpayer dollars, Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray said.

The hand-held computer tablets are popular in prisons across the country, and they are made available to Idaho inmates through a contract with CenturyLink and JPay. Neither company immediately responded to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

The tablets allow inmates to email their families and friends, purchase and listen to music or play simple electronic games.

The inmates were “intentionally exploiting a vulnerability within JPay to improperly increase their JPay account balances,” Ray said in a prepared statement on Thursday. He said 50 inmates credited their accounts in amounts exceeding $1,000; the largest amount credited by a single inmate was just under $10,000.

The total amount was nearly $225,000.

“This conduct was intentional, not accidental. 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,” Ray said in a prepared statement.

So far, JPay has recovered more than $65,000 worth of credits, and the company has suspended the ability of the inmates to download music and games until they compensate JPay for its losses, Ray said. The inmates are still able to send and receive emails, however.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Department of Correction has issued disciplinary offense reports to the inmates who were allegedly involved, which means they could lose privileges and may be reclassified to a higher security risk level.

The inmates involved are housed at the Idaho State Correctional Institution, Idaho State Correctional Center, Idaho Correctional Institution-Orofino, South Idaho Correctional Institution and the Correctional Alternative Placement Plan facility operated by private prison company MTC Inc.