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back to article Locked-up crims write prison software that puts squeeze on grub supplier

Prisoners serving time in an Oklahoma penitentiary have written software to monitor the institution's canteen that could save the state $20m a year – and which has raised some awkward questions for one of the prison's outside suppliers. Two criminals in the Joseph Harp Correctional Center – one doing time for murder and another …

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Anonymous Coward

Well, if and when

they get out of stir, the big house, gulag... they have a future in software programming! It is one of the last bastions of "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."... I say this as a non-degreed engineer who is a senior systems engineer for a fortune 50 tech company. If you have any device with an integrated circuit in it, I likely wrote a lot of the software that built those chips, and if you have a cell phone, I am probably (at least partly) responsible for your ability to browse the web while reducing your data plan usage.

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Re: Well, if and when

Seems to me this is exactly what prison is for - rehabilitation and giving people who screwed up a chance to try again. Not every prisoner is a tattooed child stabber, some will be in chokey for white collar reasons and be very skilled, bored and otherwise wasted.

Government suppliers are infamous for sneaking their margins up along the way - they probably bid low on the initial contract on the basis they know they'll recoup down the line. Whether or not this is the case, though, any system that reduces waste is a good thing if nothing else.

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Re: Well, if and when

>Seems to me this is exactly what prison is for - rehabilitation and giving people who screwed up a chance to try again.

According to the article: "one doing time for murder and another for sex offenses"

That is pretty close to a child stabber. Do they get credit for stick-on tats?

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Re: Well, if and when

>>That is pretty close to a child stabber. Do they get credit for stick-on tats?<<

Touché! I was trying make the more general case, however this is another demonstration of how not to waste talent, even if it's spending the next 25yrs eating off of tin trays.

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Re: Well, if and when

Just messing Cliff. Despite the seeming seemliness of the two prisoners involved, they both could theoretically be decent people (though probably not).

Regarding the use of prisoners, I agree, there should definitely be many avenues available for those willing to go along with a strict system where going with the rules upgrades your access to opportunities while any demerits instantly knock you into higher security.

One of the biggest problems with prisons in North America is that the most dangerous criminals are usually allowed into the general population and just recruit and run operations from there. These people are usually unredeemable and should be in a supermax facility with minimum contact.

Often the crime itself that a person was convicted and sentenced for is not as good an indicator of whether they are a danger in the general population, however, those who accept responsibility at trial without having their lawyer submit a bunch of bogus character references have a decent shot. The worst offenders seem to have a reality distortion field that makes Jobs look sage, but I digress.

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Trollface

Re: "If you have any device with an integrated circuit in it, I likely wrote..."

jake?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Well, if and when

Both offences cover a large degree of wrongdoing. I know someone in America who's son was sent down for sleeping with a girl in his year at school. Technically she was underage he wasn't, so he was prosecuted for statutory rape.

(don't think that couldn't happen in the UK...)

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Alert

Re: Well, if and when

Not necessarily:- in parts of the US, taking a P in public - even if down a dark alley - can get you on the sex offenders' register as a flashing perv.

Their justice system isn't the most sensible in the world.

And before loads of rebel colonials rerun the Boston Tea Party with downvotes, I'd be the first to say that ours is nothing to write home about, either.

However, it's good to see cons doing something useful and helping to reduce waste of public funds.

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Re: "If you have any device with an integrated circuit in it, I likely wrote..."

@Comments are attributed to your handle - "jake?"

Beat me to it!! (By a day, sure, but I'm slow!)

That said, I'm going to go home tonight and eat some instant noodles in my underwear. (I will be in my underwear, the noodles won't be. Probably.) I appreciate that some people have lived fuller, more varied and more productive lives than I have. I just hate them for it : )

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Re: "If you have any device with an integrated circuit in it, I likely wrote..."

mmmmmmmm.........pant noodles...

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Re: Well, if and when

Both offences cover a large degree of wrongdoing

Murder??

About the best you could say in defence of a murderer is "he only killed one man, and that man had made him very angry". (If causing death was neither intended nor a reasonably forseeable consequence of the criminal's actions, it's not murder).

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Re: Well, if and when

Actually you get an upvote, at least from me, for understanding just how screwed up our judicial system really is. :)

We could easily spend a day or more discussing what all is wrong with both systems, especially that of the US, but I'll just conclude that a large number of our worst laws are those that were made out of outrage or public outcry about problems that didn't actually need a legal remedy, but rather a social remedy. Our prohibition laws (those behind the 'war on drugs') are quite possibly the worst of the laws on our books, because in many cases the laws have *created* a criminal element where one would not have otherwise existed. So in essence, the war on drugs has been used as a way to subjugate the population while pushing forth a draconian agenda.

I believe Douglas Adams said it best, "Those who should lead, can't. Those who do lead, shouldn't".

( To be continued... )

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Sysco and quality

DO NOT belong in the same sentence.

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Re: Sysco and quality

You don't like the food off the "Roach Coach", or their company slogan..."Hey, it's better than rat food!" ?

If memory serves, Sysco was NOT allowed to donate food to Ethiopia due to health regulations around ~1980. Maybe it was GFS? Dunno, one of them is pretty good and the other sells rat meat.

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Re: Sysco and quality

...without a negation.

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Trollface

expanded horizons

I'd like to see those two write an inmate inventory auditing system. They'd likely determine that there were two extraneous inmates in the system who would have to be released to reconcile the difference.

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Trust

I'd be inclined to trust the software put together by these guys. The ones who write in the backdoors are on the wrong side of the prison walls.

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Big Brother

Re: Trust

Yeah, but they're on the government payroll (one way or another)

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Holmes

Prison con-tractors scamming the contract.

Not so shocking.

Caught out by some of their victims.

Naturally the company officers won't see it that way.

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Interesting, not a story I'd expect to hear coming out of the states, one of the Nordic countries with their focus on teaching useful skills to inmates maybe, but not the 'tough on crime' Americans.

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Coat

Not just doing porridge

But monitoring it too.

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Slave labor is big business in the USA

People have this belief that prisoners only make license plates or break rocks. Not so:

Prison labor exposed

Much of the US manufacturing jobs have disappeared behind bars, not to China.

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Re: Slave labor is big business in the USA

Slabe labour or simply repaying one's debt to society? Or even just repaying the high cost to keep them in prison?

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Re: Slave labor is big business in the USA

The hight cost of keeping them in prison is directly related to suppliers overcharging the system. A single prison meal in Tennessee costs about $18 and is the worst food imaginable. That's $18 for the meal components, they get 'cooked' and served for free...

It costs me about $20+ tip to take two interns to lunch everyday at our local burger joint, and that includes myself and fries and soda. So I'm feeding three people burgers and fries for about what the state gets charged for two pieces of toast, some jelly and some sort of USDA approved imitation sausage link about 3/4" long and a shot glass of juice.

It's all a huge rip off to the taxpayer. Charging a premium for especially bad food is one if the most fucked up things I can imagine. My wife could feed 40 people shitty a shitty for $20 (don't repeat that).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Slave labor is big business in the USA

Given the general make up of the US's vast prison population I'd say it was slave labour. Prison is a boom business in the states and the more young impoverished ethnic men you can get in the more product you get out.

We like to say "paying their debt to society" but what did "society" ever do for most of them?

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Re: Slabe labour or simply repaying one's debt to society

But doing someone who has never committed a crime a potential job. I'm all for rehabilitation and making the most of used resources but not at the expense of honest and would be hardworking people who can't find work. Same reason why forcing people who are unemployed to do work below the minimum wage is not a good solution, if there is something needs doing just employ some of those people in a real job.

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do they get paid?

would they be entitled to a slice of the pie? assuming it is their code, can they licence it out?

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Re: do they get paid?

@ Prof Denzil Dexter

You're not supposed to make profit out of your crime (like writing a book about your foul deeds), but something like this? I'd have thought it would count along the same lines as working in the prison shop on number plates. I.e. paid a pittance, but yes actually earning money. I bet the ownership would belong to the prison/state though. Same as if you create something in paid work time for a company: they own the rights to it (I think that's how it works, anyway).

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Re: do they get paid?

Any money you earn in prison is applied to any fees/fines you owe. While it varies by State, on the off chance you create something of significant value the proceeds can go to paying those fines/fees but the remainder is the property of the the State. In some states you can have some tiny percentage of any proceeds applied to your commissary account for candy, soda, real toiletries and phone calls.

Any remaining funds will go to the halfway house where you stay after release and if there's still some left over will go toward your parole officers fees. Anything after that goes back to the State. Other than an extra candy bar every week and maybe a reduction in cleanup assignments, the prisoners will, rightly, see no direct financial gain.

While this may be the first software from inside, there is a long history of other innovations by prisoners to make things better and safer. The foam core prison mattress (which has a built in pillow & can be hosed & scrubbed instead of machine washed/deloused) is a example as are the plastic light fixture panes that crumble so you can't shank other inmates with them.

While they shouldn't be making money from their inventions, the inventors usually do get extra privileges and that's fair. A good idea is still a good idea and some reward for improving on a really bad scene is a just payment.

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Re: do they get paid?

They should at least be able to be moved to one of the prisons you have to pay yourself to go to. (That the rich go to anyway.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: do they get paid?

Why shouldn't they make money from their inventions? They are their inventions after all.

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Re: do they get paid?

"would they be entitled to a slice of the pie?"

Yes, they are entitled to one slice of pie every other Tuesday, as provisioned by their meal-scheduling program.

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Re: do they get paid?

@Don Jefe - "While they shouldn't be making money from their inventions, the inventors usually do get extra privileges and that's fair. A good idea is still a good idea and some reward for improving on a really bad scene is a just payment."

Let's also not forget the benefit in reinforcing the positive association of being a useful, contributing member of society and being rewarded, to form a counterpoint to the negative association of being a criminal and being punished.

I am a hopeless lefty and my opinions are perhaps milder than they might be had I, or a loved one, been a victim of a serious crime, but I feel that there must be a least some carrot to balance the stick.

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Anonymous Coward

"Government suppliers are infamous for sneaking their margins up along the way"

Well, those executive yachts don't exactly grow on trees you know. The dough has to come from somewhere.

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Anonymous Coward

a little off topic i know but .

not so many years ago , i had to spend a few months in a cat c prison in the uk , for something i didnt do i hasten to add ( run fast enough ;) ) , part of the education i received was computer lesions( ive been working in i.t for 30 years :) ) but it was either that or english and math

as soon as the" tutor" realised i knew what i was doing i was asked to help out with the simple things , networking , back ups , setting up a simple imaging system ect , two weeks later i had admin rights and spent my "education" chatting to family and friends on messenger .so they got a working system and i was a bit less bored a fair trade i think

( the education lan was a totally separate entity from the hmp lan , and was feed from a standard bt. isdn and was filtered with net nanny from memory )

AC.as i still work in I.T and would like to keep it that way , and while its not something i feel the need to lie about its not something i go out of my way to make public ( it was for non payment of a traffic offence btw , i didnt do it and refused to pay the £1800 in fines for ten years :) )

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When I got computer lesions I knew it was time to get out of IT operations. Things had simply gone too far. I was scared I would actually go blind, just like my Granny warned.

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Computer lesions?

Most of mine were from burrs on edges of the sheet pressings that make up cases. Then there was dropping a case side on my foot, corner first...

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Mushroom

Finally some good news from the clink. I can see a futuristic great escape film here... ?

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Anonymous Coward

Canteen? Oh! That sort of 'grub!'

I was wondering what they were doing that was difficult for the GRand Unified Boot loader

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Coat

What language did they use

Seeing as no-one has yet taken the bait ...

Java or C#. Definitely not free.

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A good idea with bad people in charge of it

Prison labour- an ok compromise (vs. leaving prisoners sat on their arses or making trouble) which can offset the cost of keeping people banged up and provide cheap furniture and stuff for the public sector.

Corporatisation of prison labour- a bad idea because it encourages the corporations to cajole the government into creating more prisoners and expanding into industries that are rather less public service orientated, thus damaging the wider economy. It comes with potentially destructive consequences in the long term as it creates a cycle of joblessness and crime outside the prison system which creates an ever larger slave labourforce that can outcompete other businesses, causing more joblessness outside the prison system.

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