Tablets Expand Inmate Access to Education

SAN FRANCISCO — American Prison Data Systems recently announced a partnership with the San Francisco Sheriff and Probation Departments to deploy more than 100 tablet devices across four facilities in the city’s jail and probation system. The pre-programmed devices will feature education, job training, mental health and recreational software, as well as a legal library and various re-entry resources aimed at decreasing recidivism.

"It’s all about public safety and crime prevention," Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi told the San Jose Mercury News following the announcement. "If we equip people in our custody with a desire to learn — that also requires some motivation to help them learn and to stick with it — then we are seeing less and less people return to the San Francisco jail system."

The tablets will be divided between roughly 1,300 male and female inmates, and will primarily support the Five Keys Charter High School, the first charter school in the nation to operate inside a county jail. As Five Keys already offers GED courses and vocational instruction in areas such as solar panel installation and bicycle repair, Mirkarimi sees the tablet program as a natural extension of the school.

Talking with a group of correctional officers and charter school instructors during the department’s Oct. 21 tablet training, Mirkarimi remarked that the program was quite cutting edge. “Historically, there’s been resistance, if not prohibitions, on allowing technology into the living quarters of inmates,” Markarimi said. “These [tablets] could help reshape how we manage communication, education, contact with families and lawyers…and help make sure inmates don’t return back to the incarceration system.”

The tablets connect through a high security data network, and are contained within a tough plastic case developed by a military contractor, according to the San Francisco Gate, protecting them from potential abuse. Additionally, the software company contracted to remotely monitor the tablets will be able to disable the devices immediately if abuse or misuse is detected. Inmates using the devices will have access to them for most of the day.

The California Wellness Foundation will fund $75,000 of the two-year, $275,000 program. Meanwhile, the Five Keys Charter School will contribute $125,000 and the San Francisco Adult Probation Department will be responsible for the remaining $75,000. These funds will cover the cost of the tablets themselves, as well as expenses related to curriculum digitization, staff training and professional development for Five Keys Charter School instructors, who also developed the curriculum.

American Prison Data Systems, based in New York, also operates similar programs at an adult jail in Maryland, as well as juvenile facilities in Indiana and Kansas.