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Computer-savvy prison inmates to man call centers?

Jail authorities in India are testing a program in which computer-savvy inmates, including murderers, will man customer service call centers.

So you have a problem with your credit card.

Perhaps you'd like to check on a charge that looks slightly illicit.

You call your credit card company. Your call is answered by someone in a call center in India. This might be someone who knows a little about illicit transactions. It might also be someone who is in jail for murder.

As usual, I am deadly serious.

For the Guardian happily informs me that the guardians of Indian prisons are experimenting with a new program that puts some of their computer-savvy inmates into the workforce. Their task will be to man call centers.

In its early stages, this test program has inmates doing data entry, but it takes far less than the fertile imagination of a fraudster to see that, should it go further, you might one day be chatting about your finances with a con artist.

In the future, will all call centers look like this? CC Corey Leopold/Flickr

The Guardian tells of Pradeep Deburma, in jail for murder, who is ready, thanks to his digital skills, to be one of those selected for this pilot program. There appear to be no barriers to his doing so.

At first, the inmates will be testing their skills on local data-entry tasks. But barriers that might prevent them from servicing international clients, such as Internet bans in prisons, are reportedly being removed.

Gopinath Reddy, director general of prisons in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, told the Guardian that inmates' knowledge should be used for the benefit of "the nation."

R.S. Ratnababu, a former assistant bank manager who is serving a six-year sentence for reportedly not being entirely secure with his bank's money, explained the opportunity for him: "Losing my job was not a major problem. But going to prison is a major problem. I have three children, and their education is suffering. This gives me a hope."

One of the vast perks of this outsourcing work is a rather more exalted salary than that of traditional prison work, such as rug-weaving (no, not for John Travolta).

And the simple fact appears to be that it is far more cost-effective for the clients if inmates are transferring data from written forms onto computers than if noncriminal professionals are charged with doing the same thing.

Still, one can't help wondering, if this program expands, what it might be like if a bank customer ends up having a conversation with an embezzler. Perhaps, along with having his questions answered, he might get some useful insider tips.