PITTSBURGH — Administrators of the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh are currently awaiting approval on a request to expand the county’s successful inmate tablet program. The devices, used only for educational and/or self-improvement purposes, were first introduced in summer 2015, and have been touted as possible recidivism-reducing tools. They are currently being rotated through both the male and female populations.
Jail administrators hope the eight-member Jail Oversight Board will approve an additional $297,000 in funding for 120 new devices. The funding would be pulled from inmate phone fees and commissary sale proceeds — not from taxpayers. The county has already invested $105,000 for 40 tablet devices, all related software and a daily rental fee. Edovo Jail Education Solutions, the Chicago-based firm providing the devices, has also donated 80 additional tablets, bringing the total number of devices currently available to inmates to 120.
Jail Oversight Board members will vote on the expansion request at their May meeting, citing the need for more discussion on costs vs. benefits, as reported by TribLive.com.
While the basic, pre-programmed Samsung tablets do not give inmates access to games, social media or the internet — functioning only on a closed, secure network — they do provide a variety of courses and tutorials on topics such as job readiness, financial literacy, parenting and substance abuse as well as legal information, updated GED programming and college-level courses. Inmates who complete these programs can earn credit toward select media such as music and movies, according to TribLive.com. All programming aims to better equip inmates for success upon release and re-entry.
Chief Deputy Warden of the Alleghany County Jail Latoya Warren speaking at a Jail Oversight Board meeting in early April said that the program provides learning tools to the jail population as well as “a positive option for how inmates spend their time on housing units.” Warren, as reported by TribLive.com, added that while the program “has gone better than I could imagine” it’s still too early to tell if it has had the intended impact on recidivism rates.
Similar tablet programs have also been established in jails in both California and Alabama, according to the Edovo Jail Education Solutions website. Some inmates in those programs have reportedly attempted to hack into the devices, but have so far been unsuccessful. The tablets used in the Allegheny County Jail are enclosed in heavy-duty, tamper-proof cases, and thus far no tampering has occurred.