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How Tablets Are Helping San Francisco Inmates Get Back on Track

October 30, 2014
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How Tablets Are Helping San Francisco Inmates Get Back on Track
Tablet computer
A new program will provide California prisoners with tablet computers to be used for reading, education and law library access. Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Technology could be the tool to reduce recidivism and help prisoners transition back into society.

It’s no secret that education programs in prison may help reduce recidivism and better transition inmates back into society, which is why California is launching a pilot program to supply tablets to prisoners.

The two year, $275,000 pilot program is directed toward helping inmates tap into the technology that’s now available in most elementary schools. The state is distributing 125 tablets, enabling access to only four websites but allowing prisoners to read books, do homework or prepare for their criminal cases through the use of a law library, MSNBC reports.

The tablets also feature an education application and curriculum developed by Five Keys Charter School, which donated $125,000 to the initiative. The California Wellness Foundation has also bestowed a $75,000 grant for the project, while San Francisco’s Adult Probation Department gave $75,000, according to Steve Good, the executive director for the Five Keys Charter School.

“We hope this will help bridge the digital divide and provide inmates access to technology that every elementary, middle and high school student already has, but has been out of reach for those forgotten by society,” Good says.

The majority of the 125 tablets will be given to men and women who are already part of the Five Keys programs. The tablets, developed by New York-based American Prison Data Systems, can be remotely monitored or disabled and will be available to prisoners most hours of the day. American Prison Data Systems also provides similar devices to juvenile jails in Indiana, Kansas and an adult prison system in Maryland.

“This is really cutting edge,” says San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi. “Historically, there’s been resistance, if not prohibitions, on allowing technology into the living quarters of inmates.”

Inmate and former army veteran Dennis Jones hope the use of a tablet will help him earn a high school diploma and keep him off the streets the next time he’s released.

“I’m five credits shy of getting my diploma,” Jones says. “I’m willing to work toward that goal — and hopefully this will help me.”

 MORE: How A New York Program is Reframing Prison Education

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