New Hampshire Department of Corrections Officer Glen Dinning puts a tablet back into a charging cabinet at the Corrections Transitional Work Center, a low risk security section at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men, in Concord, NH. Inmates across the country are getting access to technology via tablets in an effort to help their education, keep them connected to family and reduce noise and violence in prison. Photo: Charles Krupa/AP
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 in the US, 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 for a population, because sometimes there is down time in prisons,” Semple said. “We’re also trying to keep them exposed to technology, because we hear from people that when they go back into society, the technology is so different that they struggle.”
Connecticut got the idea from similar programmes in Georgia and Colorado, Semple said.
Miramar, Florida-based JPay, one of the major tablet providers to prisons, said it has put them in 13 states so far. Prison officials estimate tablets are used in more than ten 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, Virginia-based Global Tel-Link to provide tablets there.
Anthony Plant, 27, of Lancaster, New Hampshire, 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 finalise its contract with a provider this summer.
The programmes do have critics.