Tablets get cap­tive au­di­ence in jail

Pris­ons see de­vices as ways to keep peace, teach in­mates

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Nation & World - By Pat Ea­ton-Robb As­so­ci­ated Press

HART­FORD, Conn. — Al­low­ing in­mates to stare at com­puter tablet screens for hours each day may be just the ticket for cre­at­ing calm, or­derly cell­blocks, prison of­fi­cials say.

But tablets, grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity in pris­ons na­tion­wide, also can help in­mates ad­vance their ed­u­ca­tion, con­nect with fam­ily and pre­pare them for life in the tech­nol­ogy-sat­u­rated out­side world, of­fi­cials say.

In Con­necti­cut, which plans to in­tro­duce tablets in its pris­ons this sum­mer, Cor­rec­tion Com­mis­sioner Scott Sem­ple said of­fi­cials are learn­ing from other states that cell­blocks be­come much qui­eter af­ter tablets are in­tro­duced.

“Just like when you walk in the mall, ev­ery­one is look­ing down at their phone,” he said.

The de­vices, which are trans­par­ent so con­tra­band can’t be hid­den in them, won’t be hooked to the in­ter­net, but to an in­ter­nal sys­tem. They will be pre­loaded with ed­u­ca­tional ma­te­ri­als, in­clud­ing books, ed­u­ca­tional videos and games.

In­mates will also be able to use them — for a price — to send emails and make mon­i­tored phone calls to those on their ap­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tions lists. They will also be able to buy mu­sic, video games and other items to load onto the ma­chines from kiosks in the pris­ons.

The com­pany that pro­vides the tablets will make a profit sell­ing those ma­te­ri­als, al­low­ing the state to get the ma­chines at no cost.

“We’re try­ing to in­crease en­gage­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties An­thony Plant reads from a tablet at a low-risk sec­tion of the New Hamp­shire State Prison for Men in Con­cord, N.H.

for a pop­u­la­tion, be­cause some­times there is down time in pris­ons,” Sem­ple said.

Con­necti­cut got the idea from sim­i­lar pro­grams in Colorado and Ge­or­gia, Sem­ple said.

Mi­ra­mar, Fla.-based JPay, one of the ma­jor tablet providers to pris­ons, said it has put them in 13 states. Prison of­fi­cials es­ti­mate tablets are used in more than 10 per­cent of cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties na­tion­wide.

In Jan­uary, New York an­nounced plans to pro­vide tablets to 51,000 in­mates, and in April, New Hamp­shire signed a five-year con­tract with Re­ston, Va.-based Global Tel-Link to pro­vide tablets there.

An­thony Plant, 27, of Lan­caster, N.H., served 21 months for sell­ing drugs. Tablets, he said, kept him in touch with rel­a­tives and elim­i­nated con­flicts among in­mates vy­ing for their once-a-day use of the phone. “Talk­ing with my fam­ily gave me a sense of keep­ing my head straight and mo­ti­vated me to keep do­ing what I’m do­ing,” he said.

Con­necti­cut, which has about 13,500 in­mates, ex­pects to fi­nal­ize its con­tract with a provider this sum­mer.

The pro­grams do have crit­ics.

Ques­tions have been raised about whether the tablets could lead pris­ons to de­crease in-per­son vis­i­ta­tion and whether there is enough reg­u­la­tion of pri­vate providers to pre­vent price goug­ing.

“If we be­lieve that peo­ple in prison would ben­e­fit from re­sources that en­rich their lives and al­low them to con­tact their loved ones more, we shouldn’t make those ben­e­fits con­tin­gent on who can pay, es­pe­cially since we’re talk­ing about peo­ple who are dis­pro­por­tion­ately very poor,” said Wanda Ber­tram, with the Prison Pol­icy Ini­tia­tive, a think tank.

And Con­necti­cut state Sen. John Kis­sel, R-En­field, a co-chair of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, said he doesn’t un­der­stand why the state would give pri­or­ity to crim­i­nals over, say, pub­lic school stu­dents.

Plant said that he un­der­stands that crit­i­cism, but that the tablets, es­pe­cially their ed­u­ca­tional con­tent, are an im­por­tant re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion tool.

“If you don’t want things like this, then change the name from the De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions to the De­part­ment of Hold­ing,” he said. “Be­cause that’s all you are do­ing.”

Two law­suits filed by South Dakota in­mates al­lege tablets are prone to mal­func­tions and don’t pro­vide promised ac­cess to le­gal data­bases, mak­ing them a poor al­ter­na­tive to the law li­braries they re­placed.

The Colorado De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions said has had to deal with se­cu­rity is­sues, such as im­proper shar­ing of de­vices and in­mates re­mov­ing a metal strip from an early model to make weapons, said spokesman Mark Fair­bairn.

But, he said, over­all it has been pos­i­tive, and game and mu­sic sub­scrip­tions have brought in more than

$53,000 to the de­part­ment’s com­mis­sary ser­vice.

In Con­necti­cut, the plan is to be­gin hand­ing out the tablets in in the high­est­se­cu­rity pris­ons. Be­cause they are a priv­i­lege, Sem­ple said, they can be an in­cen­tive for in­mates to be­have.

Pennsylvania in­tro­duced tablets in 2016.

In­mates can buy them from Global Tel-Link for just un­der $150. About

16,000, or a third of the state’s in­mate pop­u­la­tion, have done so.


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