Prisons Look to Tablets to Improve Communications and Behavior

Tablet on top of a stack of books

With new technologies being launched daily, LinkSource works hard to weed out the best-in-class solutions. Many of these new technologies enhance, secure or optimize legacy systems, ultimately saving valuable time and producing immediate return on investment (ROI). LinkSource looks at trends that provide opportunities for growth, sometimes those come from some unexpected places.

One usually doesn’t think of “prison” and “IT strategy” in the same sentence but that is exactly the combination that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is looking at. California prisons are some of the most expensive in the nation; however, CDCR is looking to technology to help reduce costs while enhancing rehabilitation efforts.

The program is currently running a pilot in five institutions, where inmates of the top two conviction statuses and behaviors can purchase tablets, through pre-approved vendors, at the facility canteen. The tablets come pre-loaded with games and books that inmates and family members may put “money on” via kiosks installed by JPay, the handler of inmate funds.

Inmate in cell with hands hanging out of bars

How the service works is like this. Inmates can connect their tablet to the JPay kiosks and use the secure messaging service to connect them to loved ones. They compose their messages ahead of time and save them for sending later. The connections are completely paid for by the inmate and their family, and only approved family members can be accessed.

While some may be concerned of the safety of this method, the CDCR is way ahead of you.  The messages are reviewed as they pass in or out of the prison and inmates are supervised while using the kiosks. A program on the tablets scans the messages and alerts staff if there is any content that points to inappropriate, gang or hidden communications. The program can be updated to include any content which the staff deems inappropriate or indicative of a dangerous business or crime as times goes on.

“They can send a message that is read by staff. Families can send videos; for example, you can see your grandchild blowing out their birthday candles,” CDCR Spokesperson Khokhobashvili says.  “It’s important for inmates to stay connected to their families,”. Another benefit of the digital information is that it removes the chance of contraband entering via traditional snail mail methods.

Screen shot of Colorado inmate playing games on a tablet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


To date, 211 kiosks have been put in place with more kiosks arriving in Summer 2018 if the pilot program goes well. JPay paid the costs of the program so far but a statewide procurement solicitation could happen early 2018 if things take off.

Prior to the pilot program, the only devices inmates had access to were e-readers for college courses. These expire after 180 days and were budgeted for $3 million in 2016-2017. This new tablet program has the potential to reduce, if not eliminate those costs down the road. And California is not the first state to instate such a program either, Colorado rolled out tablets to 8,000 inmates earlier this year as well in a program called “Inspire”.

GTL Corp’s “Inspire” program was designed to give inmates a wide range of media and educational content, while also creating a revenue stream and cost savings. The tablets are free to prisoners but a 2-month subscription to access music and games costs $6.59, while text messages are 25 cents each and a 20-minute phone call costs around $2 to $3.

Besides games and educational items, the tablets can also be used to file complaints, order snacks, contact medical staff and access to prison programs. Even though prisoners can contact people outside of the prison, the tablets are not connected to the internet and cannot be used for internal communications.

Some are skeptical of these programs and have reservations about both the security and message that it sends, but findings show that this could be a positive move. Reduced costs to the state, lowered communication charges for family members and increased positivity for inmates are all great reasons to give tablets a try!

 

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