Digital Payments

Idaho Inmates Discover Glitch In JPay Credit System

More than 300 prison inmates in Idaho received a quarter million dollars in credits to their JPay accounts by allegedly exploiting a bug in the system.

According to a report in the Associated Press citing officials, the credits happened when users placed items in their online shopping carts and then removed them in a manner that resulted in a credit that was then added to their available funds. The AP said the Idaho Department of Correction investigators took disciplinary action against inmates who received credits earlier this month. Officials called it “intentional exploitation,” while some inmates’ families said it was a “glitch,” noted the report.  Of the 364 inmates, 50 received credits of more than $1,000, with one getting a little under $10,000. All told, there were close to $225,000 in the credits going to the inmates’ accounts.

According to the report, the exploitation occurs on JPay tablet accounts. These devices are widely used in prisons around the U.S. and were provided to Idaho prison inmates via CenturyLink and JPay. With the tablets, inmates can email family and friends and purchase music and play online games.  But the service doesn’t come cheap. The AP reported sending a one-page email costs $0.50 from a prison in the state of Idaho.

The story has garnered a lot of social media interest, with some rooting for the inmates. Cara Berg Powers, executive director of the Transformative Culture Project in Massachusetts, is among them.

The AP pointed to a Twitter post in which Powers said, “we keep using technology and private corporations to make experiences for prisoners and their loved ones less and less humane.” Meanwhile, Peter Wagner, executive director of Prison Policy Initiative, an advocacy group, expressed support for the inmates. “These are the poorest folks in the state ... and they are being asked to pay unreasonable sums of money to stay in touch with their loved ones,” Wagner said, noting that one in four women in America have an incarcerated loved one.

Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray told AP officials think the inmates knew what they were doing. “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,” Ray said in a prepared statement, reported the AP.



The September 2020 Leveraging The Digital Banking Shift Study, PYMNTS examines consumers’ growing use of online and mobile tools to open and manage accounts as well as the factors that are paramount in building and maintaining trust in the current economic environment. The report is based on a survey of nearly 2,200 account-holding U.S. consumers.