Creating Technology for Social Change

Charlie DeTar speaks with Marketplace’s Tech Report about “Between the Bars”

Jon Moe of PRI’s Marketplace radio show spoke with our Charlie DeTar to get more background on his groundbreaking prison-blogging project, Between the Bars:

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Prison inmates generally don’t have access to the Internet. But a new program is letting them publish handwritten blogs online.

We talk to Charlie DeTar. He’s a Ph.D candidate at MIT and co-founder of Between the Bars. It’s a program where prisoners write out their blog entries longhand, mail them in, and then volunteers scan them and post them online. The prisoners can’t look at the entries online, at least not while they’re locked up, but can receive printouts of what it looks like and what comments they’ve received.

DeTar says he first began imagining the program in 2008 upon hearing that the U.S. prison population had hit 1 percent of the overall population. That’s when he started reading prison blogs and wondering what more could be done to bridge the gap between prisoners and the outside world.

He says sociological evidence suggests that prisoners have a lower rate of recidivism if they can be identified as something outside of a prison context. In the prison parlance, they are referred to as “offenders” and while that designation is accurate, having some other context of identification can be helpful. The other benefit DeTar sees is a potential building of a network of loose connections, the kind that the rest of use to find work and make our way in society.