OKLAHOMA CITY – Inmates at an Oklahoma prison began receiving special tablet computers this week, as part of a Department of Corrections plan to provide secure tablets to all those incarcerated in the state prisons.
The devices, specially designed by prison communications company Securus Technologies, will include free content such as prison policies, access to a law library, some books, and educational and self-help materials. Inmates can also pay to receive music, movies, games and television shows, as well as to send and receive messages, including video messages, to and from their families. Tablets do not have unlimited Internet access.
Usually, inmates who wish to receive academic or vocational training must be escorted to a classroom or program location. But inmates can now receive these services directly on the tablet, said Mike Carpenter, chief of technical services and operations at the corrections service.
“Education and programming is huge for us,” Carpenter said.
On Tuesday, North Fork Correctional Center inmate Byron Robinson, incarcerated since 2005 – the same year YouTube was founded – said the tablet was totally new to him.
“I haven’t even touched any of these things until today,” said Robinson. “It’s mind-boggling, really, how much this thing can do.”
Similar programs allowing inmates to access secure tablets have been rolled out in other states including Arizona, Connecticut and Utah, but Oklahoma is one of the first in the country to combine the latest tablet and the company’s latest operating system.
In Pinal County, Arizona, officials began distributing tablets to inmates at the state’s third largest prison in 2019, said Matt Hedrick, deputy head of the detention center.
“It has been phenomenal,” Hedrick said.
In addition to helping keep inmates calm, Hedrick said the prison digitizes incoming letters and photographs on an inmate’s tablet, reducing the risk of contraband entry into the facility and allowing inmates to ” have access to more personal photographs.
“Before, you had rules about how many photos they could have in their cell, how many magazines,” he said. “Now that doesn’t happen anymore. They can have as many as they want.”
There are some drawbacks to providing inmates with tablets. According to a 2019 report from the Prison Policy Initiative, “free” tablets frequently charge users higher prices for services than the market. Oklahoma’s contract with the company allows charges of 25 cents for emails and 75 cents for outgoing video messages. Music can cost up to $ 1.99 per song or $ 14.99 per album, while the cost for a TV episode can range from $ 1.70 to $ 2.28.
Some 21,000 inmates are currently in state custody, making the plan potentially very lucrative for Securus.
The Department of Corrections also benefits financially from the arrangement, receiving $ 3.5 million per year from the communications company for the first five years of the contract, and $ 3.75 million for the next five years.
“Our recent analysis of these contracts suggests that they put the interests of incarcerated people last, prioritizing cost savings and the bottom line of the supplier,” the report says.
Sierra Kiplinger, who was released from prison in April, said that while inmates are excited about the new technology, she has expressed concern about the amount prisoners have to pay to use the services.
“The phone calls for Securus are ridiculously high, and so I guess if the phone calls are high, it’s going to be even higher,” she said.
State Representative Justin Humphrey, chairman of the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee, said that while he supports the program, he believes public perception could be an issue.
“I don’t think the public is going to like it when they see that we give tablets to all of these inmates and they say, ‘My kid can’t get a tablet in school,’ Humphrey said.