Electronic tablets have been given to most of Missouri’s prison population of 30,500. State Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe tells Missourinet a company the department already does business with, JPay, is providing the tablets for free and will recoup its costs through offenders buying content with their own money.
“No general revenue money is being used at all. No taxpayer dollars,” Precythe says.
Offenders must pay for access to things like educational materials, music, movies, and games. A daily newspaper-style feed is also available at a cost.
A FM radio tuner and a couple of games are included for free. Each prisoner receives four free digital credits per month to purchase content for the device.
The tablets do not come with cameras or outside internet access, but offenders can email, for a fee, through a closely-monitored system. The Department says the devices run on a secure wireless system accessible at designated secure hot spots.
Restrictive housing offenders will have access to pre-loaded tablets as allowed by the Department or governed by policy and procedure. These prisoners will not have the same services available to them as those in general population.
Precythe says the tablets will be used as an incentive and a consequence.
“It’s going to be tied to behavior,” she says. “You do well – more features will unlock on the tablet – features they (offenders) have to pay for just like they would now out of the canteen. Your behavior is not good – we’ll either lock down some of those features or take the tablet away.”
Offenders with good behavior status will eventually be able to make phone calls via the tablets at the same cost as a normal phone call.
Offenders will not be able to contact each other through the devices.
The Missouri prison system has been dealing with a possible record 800 correctional officer vacancies – leading to safety issues within the prison walls. Precythe says the tablets are being used as an officer safety tool.
“What we’re seeing and hearing from other states is the tablets dramatically reduces offender-on-offender assaults and offender-on-staff assaults,” says Precythe.
The department cites Pima County, Arizona reporting that staff assaults decreased by 60% after tablet installation and offender-on-offender assaults are down 40%.
In addition to providing access to education and entertainment content, the tablets streamline the process through which offenders request appointments with their case managers or with medical staff. They can also email their attorneys.
The department is working on a pilot tablet-based college program with Ashland University in Ohio.