KGUN 9News


Inmates using tablets at the Pima County Jail

Posted at 9:45 PM, Jun 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-03 18:18:26-04
After a six month pilot program, the Pima County Sheriff's Department is giving tablets to nearly all of the roughly 2,000 inmates at the jail.
The personal devices aren't iPads, you can't use them to take photos or access the Internet.
"They're not going to be able to Facebook, they're not going to be able to get out and Google search anything," said Captain Sean Stewart. "All they are going to have access to is what we give them access to internally."
The devices are made specifically for correctional facilities by the company Global Tel Link (GTL). Inmates are able to play free games, read books, and pay for phone calls. Stewart says calls cost $2.35 for 15 minutes, but will soon be $.20 a minute. 
The average phone call is 10 minutes, so it's likely the inmates will save money, Stewart said.
The tablets are at no cost to taxpayers, Stewart says. GTL has a contract for phone services with the jail and the company has invested about $3 million in the tablet program. There are no up front costs for the devices and GTL eventually makes its money back for services inmates have to pay for like streaming music, which could cost roughly $19 a month. 
Jail staff began handing out the tablets this week. Stewart knows that the public will be skeptical and might not think inmates deserve this privilege. With one correctional officer for about 65 inmates, the devices will be used as a management tool to encourage positive behavior.
"If they don't have anything else to do, then they are occupying their time on my staff," Stewart said. "So now they really have something constructive to do instead of destructive."
On average there are between 1,800 and 2,000 inmates at the jail, Stewart said. According to the county, as many as 80% of jail inmates are in pretrial status, and running the jail costs nearly $66 million a year. A large population of the inmates are behind bars for failing to appear in court on misdemeanor charges.
As he was handing out the tablets on Thursday, Stewart emphasized that if inmates misbehave or break the tablets they will be taken away. All calls are monitored and recorded, which is already done at the facility.
"If you make a phone call on there I can hear it, unless it's privileged between you and your attorney," Stewart said to a group of detainees.  
Eventually inmates will be able to access a law library and diversion programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, and Stewart says the goal is to reduce recidivism rates. If inmates stay connected to the outside world and get the support they need, Stewart hopes they won't end up back behind bars.
"They are able to stay in touch with their family, they are able to have those lines of communication," Stewart said. "So when they get out, it's easier for them to come back into the fold of the family because they've been in contact and kept that communication going."
Inmates are in charge of keeping track of their tablets, and there are charging facilities in each pod. 
By the end of the month electronic messaging will be available for a cost. Sending and receiving messages would cost the same amount as a stamp. That will hopefully free up resources in the mail room, Stewart says. Three people are in charge of sorting through letters and looking for contraband and the jail could receive thousands of pieces of mail a day. With less snail mail, Stewart says staff can focus on keeping the jail safe.
KGUN9 reached out to other facilities in Arizona including the Department of Corrections, and Pima County is one of the only jails using this type of technology. While the GTL tablets are being used at some correctional facilities in Pennsylvania and California, it is still a very new form of technology.