Nueces County, Texas, is poised to become the latest place to join the growing number of jails and prisons that are offering handheld computers to inmates. The functions of different computers on the corrections market vary, but the tablets offer a range of entertainment, education, and communication options for inmates. Proponents say the tablets could pave the way to lower recidivism rates through increased educational opportunity, but critics warn the companies building the computers are just looking for one more way to make money off inmates and their families, and that Internet access poses a safety risk.
That reality makes the educational promise of tablets especially appealing. But those benefits could come at a steep cost to prisoners and their families. Companies such as JPay, Telmate, American Prison Data Systems, and Global Tel-Link are all cashing in on increasing interest in handheld computers for inmates from corrections departments. Each company has a different model and charges the departments, as well as the users—the inmates—differently. Grewe, whose tablets are in nine facilities in states across the U.
Entertainment apps on the tablets are only available as a reward or incentive for completing educational programs. While only one of the nine facilities that Grewe works with permits inmates to use the tablets to communicate with family through email, tablets that enable inmates to call or message their loved ones, such as those made by JPay, are becoming more common.
Numerous studies have found that prisoners who are able to maintain ties to their family and loved ones while incarcerated are less likely to return to prison. But as with phone calls, this service can come at a hefty cost. On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission released a long-awaited proposal to regulate the prison and jail phone industry and limit the amount that companies can charge inmates and their families.
The tablets feature games, music, and e-reader features. Email, messaging, and other communication through tablets is monitored by corrections staff, according to Prison Legal News. Inmates and family members are charged between 25 and 50 cents per sent message, and more if a photo is attached, according to Al Jazeera America.
APDS, on the other hand, charges only the corrections department for the cost of the software: Inmates and their families pay nothing to use their mini computers.
Nueces County Jail did not respond to a request for comment on its portion of the money made. Global Tel-Link has already made headlines for charging inmates and their families steep costs for phone calls—prices that it will have to rein in thanks to the new FCC rules.
While tablets have been available for people outside of prison for more than five years, versions built with tamper-resistant plastic and limited software specifically designed for prisons have emerged in the last two years, leaving a lot of unanswered questions about their potential, according to Jannetta. Enrollment for public benefits, Medicaid, and job applications are often completed online, and incarcerated people—who already face barriers to employment—could benefit from being able to access this technology before their release.
Jails in at least seven states give inmates access to mini computers, and as the prison tablet business grows, that number will likely grow with it. Computers for Cons: The Debate Over Tablets in Prisons Heats Up The mini computers promise educational opportunity—but also a chance for companies to make more money off inmates and their families.These high-tech devices are similar to common handheld tablets, but are made exclusively by GTL.
Tablets offer specialized content and services for inmates to use during their stay at correctional facilities where available. Some tablet content and services are free, such as select reading material, utilities dictionary, calendar, calculator, etc. Other subscription services are available at an additional cost. Game Center Your loved one can pass the time engaging with puzzles or action, sports, and brain-challenging games.
TV Audio Real-time audio from broadcasted television can keep your inmate entertained for hours. Each inmate can sign in to a tablet device to view their account profile and services available at the facility. Using supplied headphones, inmates may also use the tablet to place phone calls to you from more private and comfortable facility locations, rather than using the traditional wall-mounted phones.
Free services are already available for use on the device. Inmates will then be able to purchase subscription services and premium content to enjoy.
Tablet devices include some services and the content is free. The subscription services require additional funding. There may be multiple options such as 7-day or day subscriptions.
What It Costs Tablet devices include some services and the content is free. Please enter your birth date. Year Confirm Age.On the surface, the notion seems preposterous: Hand out Samsung computer tablets to dozens of Sacramento County Main Jail inmates. But 40 of the tablets have been in use at the Main Jail downtown for two months, and officials say they have had virtually no problems.
Inmates have used them to take classes toward high school diplomas, for parenting and domestic violence courses and, once they have earned enough points from studying, to watch preapproved movies or listen to music.
The project, which officials hope soon will offer tablets to inmates, is similar to others that have been launched in jails nationwide and is not costing taxpayers a dime, sheriff's Sgt. Brian Amos said. There's thousands of hours of content. The computers cannot be used for email or be hooked up to wireless Internet, Amos said. Instead, they can only connect with a secure network operated by a Chicago-based company called Edovo that offers the service.
If someone somehow managed to hack into the system, "they'd end up at Edovo," Amos said. Although Amos acknowledges the notion originally worried some deputies at the jail, which houses about 2, inmates, the pilot program has proved to have a calming effect on inmates who have been given access to the devices.
On two visits last week to the day room where the devices are being used, there was something present that is entirely out of the ordinary for the cacophonous jailhouse: silence. Jason Rogers, 43, who has been in the jail for eight months on drug charges, sat with one of the tablets studying a chapter book and taking notes on a pad.
Prisons say giving inmates tablets will make them well-behaved
Without access to a tablet, Rogers said, he'd most likely be writing letters or watching television in the day room.
Steve Wilson, 52, who is awaiting the results of an appeal on a federal white-collar crime case, said he uses the devices to listen to TED talks and watch documentaries. In a previous stint at the jail while awaiting trial, Wilson said disputes among bored inmates were common. And there's going to be more, there's going to be games, there's going to be magazines.
The tablets, which officials say can also be used to eliminate paperwork by allowing inmates to request medical care or to read up on jail policies and procedures, are designed so they cannot be altered to allow communication with the outside. The seven-inch tablets cannot be taken into cells, and must be locked in a charging cart at night. Deputy Brent Snyder, who was watching over inmates on Wednesday, said he was skeptical when he heard inmates would be given access to the small computers, noting that he wanted assurances they could not access the Internet or communicate outside the jail.
Since then, Snyder said, he has been won over by the program and the effect it has had on inmates. They are calmer, quieter and eager to use them to study and to listen to music. To date, he said, the only problem they have had is from one inmate who took the device into his cell, and officials say they do not expect any serious violations because the inmates do not want to lose their access to the devices.
Edovo and its tablet programs are the brainchild of Sacramento native Brian Hill, a Del Campo High School graduate who says his company has about 1, tablets in fewer than 10 facilities nationwide, but expects to more than double that in the coming year. As prisons and jails try to focus more on reform than simply punishment, the need for programs that can be made available to inmates is greater than ever, Hill said, and the use of tablets can help.
Hill, whose father, David, has taught at area community colleges and prisons, said the genesis of the idea came from watching his father. With the tablets, he said, a facility can choose whatever programs it wants to make available, from financial skills to college courses. Each jail or prison also can ask for specialized programs, he said, noting that in Sacramento there may eventually be a demand for courses in Russian or Hmong.
The tablets are encased in hard plastic that protects them and prevents them from being opened by inmates. And, Hill said, if someone smuggled a cellphone or other device into the jail and hacked into the secure system, they would only gain access to the coursework Edovo offers. Hill acknowledged that there is hesitation from some -- especially guards -- when they first hear about the program.
Such programs have been put into use from San Francisco to Pennsylvania using iPads and other tablets and are generating a surprisingly positive response from some. But, Ward said, as long as inmates are being held accountable for their crimes, it is important for institutions to offer prisoners the ability to improve and educate themselves.Make CorrectionsOne your homepage. Maintaining mental wellness of staff and inmates during custodial pandemonium.
Officer safety, improved inmate behavior and revenue are key reasons why correctional facilities are issuing tablets to inmates. For seasoned corrections officers, the notion of freely handing out expensive electronic tablet devices to an incarcerated population seems absolutely absurd.
I was guilty of the same opinion until I took a deeper look at this new generation of inmate program management. This article highlights current pilot programs and the opportunity cost to issuing tablets to inmates in jails and prisons.
In Jail, Tablets Calm and Educate Inmates
The inmate fund is collected through revenues from inmate commissary purchases. The pilot project intends to disburse about tablets at a cost of zero to the taxpayer in the long run.
Sacramento jail administrators are very happy with the results of the 40 tablets that have been distributed thus far. Inmates have used them toward obtaining their high school diplomas, parenting classes and domestic violence courses. Other courses offered through their intranet include mechanics and career-based learning options.
Canyon County, Idaho opted to make 10 tablets available for inmate use. In their bed jail, tablet privileges can be used as a disciplinary tool and taken away for violating facility rules. Their tablets are custom programmed and run on Android. Inmates can research legal matters on the devices for free, or pay per minute to access games, videos or messaging. Family members are also required to pay in order to send an instant message to an inmate.
Santa Cruz County, California is also trial testing tablets in their male programming unit, and the program has been a success so far. With statistics reflecting a 60 percent illiteracy rate among the incarcerated population, sitting in front of television screens is really a waste of time.
The costs vary from facility to facility depending on how the fee structure is designed. Those extra features — such as video games, books and movies — come at a cost to the inmate.Until February, Andrew Stiern could only speak with his girlfriend on a phone in a prison day hall while 10 other inmates listened in and waited impatiently in line behind him.
Inmates can use the wireless handheld devices when they are not involved in other prison programming, such as GED classes or doing jobs including milking cows in the prison dairy.
You want your mind to be focused on positive things. These tabs have become a new piece of life in here. Colorado is the first state to roll out the Inspire program across all its prisons. Smaller programs were tested in county jails in Arizona and California. Not everyone is sold on the idea. His brother, Sid Wells, was murdered in Some of them are gang members and have been involved in some pretty nasty stuff. How are they going to monitor this? Correctional officers, too, were concerned the tablets could make it easier for members of gangs to communicate to the outside world.
Are we going to be more vulnerable because of this technology? GTL sells inmates subscriptions to the streaming database, which includes an eBook library of thousands of volumes. GTL also charges inmates, their friends and family for each call and text they exchange.
Colorado inmates will be able to access vocational and educational programming on their tablets, he said. The tablets also replace a mountain of pen-and-paper prison communications. They enable inmates to quickly order a Snickers bar from the commissary, file a grievance about high-carbohydrate prison food, notify medical staff in the prison clinic about hepatitis C symptoms or sign up for prison education programs. Likewise the threat of losing tablet privileges is a powerful incentive to toe the line.
No one wants to lose their computer for 30 days, he said. The tablets affect morale, Stiern said. He demonstrated for journalists how he set up a matrix of icons of his favorite music artists and computer games on a tablet screen.
Listening to music is a great stress reliever, he said. Stiern says all the inmates know a correctional officer is always listening in on your phone conversations or reading text messages that can be up to 2, characters. Nashe said inwhen GTL began talking to prison staff about their tablet idea, people were skeptical.
They thought it was a nice idea but that it was pie in the sky.Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about. Tablets are being introduced to inmates at jails in Sanilac and St. Clair counties. A link has been sent to your friend's email address. A link has been posted to your Facebook feed. Welcome to our new and improved commentswhich are for subscribers only. This is a test to see whether we can improve the experience for you. You do not need a Facebook profile to participate.
You will need to register before adding a comment. Typed comments will be lost if you are not logged in. Please be polite. It's OK to disagree with someone's ideas, but personal attacks, insults, threats, hate speech, advocating violence and other violations can result in a ban.
If you see comments in violation of our community guidelinesplease report them. In February, the St. In fact, Koops plans to make tablets available to Allegan County inmates in While the goals of both tablet programs in St.
Clair and Sanilac counties are similar, the implementation of those programs differs. In Sanilac County, tablets were given to inmates at no cost to the county and, at least initially, at no cost to the inmates. On Monday, inmates at the jail tapped through the applications on the tablet, bringing up job-hunting software, games and podcasts that included standup routines from Comedy Central.
Nicholas Romzek, Sanilac County jail administrator. Officials expect about 35 to 50 percent of the jail population will continue renting the tablet after the free trial period expires.
It's reinforcement for good behavior. The tablets are connected to an intranet system at the jail, and do not have access to the internet. Inmates are able to access library resources, podcasts, news, pre-approved music apps, job search software and some brain teaser-type games. They also can use the tablet as a phone with earbuds. Officials hope to eventually outfit the tablets with law library material and resources to help inmates obtain their G.
Although inmates will be using new equipment, calls will continue to be monitored and screened. Inmates still will have to pay what they would to make a call from the jail phones — 22 cents a minute. Romzek said the call cost was lowered from 50 cents a minute after a recent FCC ruling limited what inmates could be charged. About 40 percent of the call costs stayed with the county when the call was still at 50 cents a minute, Romzek said.Tablets for prisoners?
Now, nearly all of the cent cost stays with Securus. Romzek said other jails throughout the country that have used the technology report good results in equipping inmates for reentering society — with an end goal of reducing recidivism — and in encouraging good behavior among inmates. He said the use of an intranet system for the tablets ensures the inmates will not be able to access items not approved by jail administration. Additionally, jail staff will have master tablets that can locate each of the tablets, monitor activities on the equipment and shut them down if necessary.
Romzek said the tablets will be returned to jail staff at the end of each day to be charged. In St. Trinity is partnering with Telmate to provide the service. Tom Bliss, St. Clair County jail administrator, said about eight tablets will be placed in each housing unit or pod. With each pod hosting about 80 people, the ratio of tablets to inmates will be about 1 to 10, Bliss said.Nine states have recently signed contracts with prison telecom companies to provide tablet computers to incarcerated people — a sharp increase since we began analyzing these contracts in Though many prisons already allow incarcerated people to buy tablets, these contracts provide something different: Tablets for freeostensibly at no cost to either consumers or taxpayers.
But as with most state contracts that appear to cost nothing, there is a catch — several, in fact. Table 1. Contracts are listed from oldest to newest. Providers and DOC officials often describe free tablets as a gift to incarcerated people, but they more closely resemble a corporate investment than a gift. For the companies, free tablets with expensive services more than pay for themselves down the line. And for prison administrators, tablets pave the way for the elimination of essential services.
All this being said, there is nothing inherently wrong with tablet technology, in or out of a prison setting. But before states can write better contracts, they — and the public — must learn to distinguish truly innovative policies from high-tech ploys to cut costs. Other articles Full bio Contact. Thank you for your time and patience.
The internet's first always-up-to-date list of organizations that provide legal services and resources for incarcerated people, organized by state. Can you help us expand this work? And our other newsletters: Research Library updates? Prison gerrymandering campaign? We investigate. For instance, many of these contracts: Guarantee the Department of Corrections a portion of tablet revenue. Allow tablet providers to alter the prices of services — such as email, music and money transfer — without state approval.
Can the provider cancel the service for reasons related to profitability?