Connecticut To Begin Handing Out Free Tablet Computers To Prisoners

July 25, 2018 - 1:39 pm

HARTFORD, Conn. (WCBS 880/AP) -- Joining a growing trend in the country, Connecticut will start handing out free tablet computers to prisoners.

As WCBS 880’s Mike Smeltz reported Wednesday, there are both positives and negatives with the controversial move.

The tablets are not some kind of tricked-out iPads. They are clear, so no contraband can be hidden in them, and they will not be connected to the internet.

Instead, they will be part of a restricted in-house network that a prisoner can access to read books and watch educational videos.

Correction Commissioner Scott Semple said officials are learning from other states that cellblocks become much quieter after tablets are introduced.

"Just like when you walk in the mall, everyone is looking down at their phone," he said.

No state money will go toward paying for the tablets. Whichever company the state chooses to do business with will hand out the tablets for free to the prisoners.

"We're trying to increase engagement opportunities for a population, because sometimes there is down time in prisons," Semple said. "We're also trying to keep them exposed to technology, because we hear from people that when they go back into society, the technology is so different that they struggle."

The catch is that prisoners will have to pay to use certain services on the devices, such as buying music or sending emails. That is where some inmate advocates are worried.

They believe that it will drain inmates of money, and that it could be fairly easy for the tablet company provider to price-gouge the prisoners, since they have nowhere else to go.

But advocates say the benefits are obvious though. Along with the educational resources, prisoners would no longer have to fight over using the same phone, as it will be easier for them to communicate with their families.

Connecticut got the idea from similar programs in Georgia and Colorado, Semple said.

Miramar, Florida-based JPay, one of the major tablet providers to prisons, said it has put them in 13 states so far. Prison officials estimate tablets are used in more than 10 percent of correctional facilities nationwide.

In January, New York announced plans to provide tablets to 51,000 inmates, and in April, New Hampshire signed a five-year contract with Reston, Virginia-based Global Tel-Link to provide tablets there.

Anthony Plant, 27, of Lancaster, New Hampshire, served 21 months for selling drugs. Tablets, he said, kept him in touch with relatives and eliminated conflicts among inmates vying for their once-a-day use of the phone.

"Talking with my family gave me a sense of keeping my head straight and motivated me to keep doing what I'm doing," he said.

Connecticut, which has about 13,500 inmates, expects to finalize its contract with a provider this summer.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)