Tablets will generate efficiency for the state, TDCJ said, and a consistent connection to the outside world could also reduce recidivism.
DALLAS – The Texas Department of Criminal Justice will soon distribute computer tablets to nearly every prison inmate across the state.
“We have 118,000 interns. There will be some categories, some of the disruptive inmates, that we might not be able to issue … but at this point, we would have more than 110,000 tablets issued within the system, “said Bryan Collier, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Collier made the remarks at Tuesday’s “Virtual Reentry Symposium,” which is organized annually by Unlocking Doors, a nonprofit organization that prepares inmates to return to society.
“The inmates will receive a tablet that will be loaded with educational materials, some e-books and some religious materials,” Collier added. “They have a radio. They can also have music. It will be loaded with some music. They will have the opportunity to buy some extra stuff to add to it. “
In addition, inmates can send and receive emails, not in real time, but within 24 hours, Collier explained. They can even file a complaint on the tablets. Perhaps most importantly, he said, is that this creates a smart and safe way for prison administrators to put specific content in front of the eyes of all inmates.
Carrollton-based Securus Technologies manufactures the tablets and said it already has contracts with 25 correction departments across the country.
Securus supplies the tablets for free in Texas. The company will make money when inmates buy subscriptions to additional content.
But Texas lawmakers say the technology will do something else for the state.
“You also have to look at the efficiencies you get in this,” said State Representative James White, R-Woodville, a longtime member of the House Corrections Committee. “If there are fewer people in the [prison] mail room, for example, dealing with paper and having to scan [a prisoner’s mail] to make sure it does not contain any contraband or substance. That’s all there is to it. “
In the coming weeks, Texas will begin distributing tablets to inmates at the following ten prisons: the Diboll Unit near Lufkin, the Henley Unit near Houston, the Hightower Unit in Dayton, the Kegans Intermediate Sanctions Facility in downtown Houston, the Bell Unit in Cleveland, the Stevenson near Victoria, the Kyle Unit near San Marcos, the Roach Unit in the panhandle, the Halbert Unit in Burnet, and the Murray Unit in Gatesville.
The remaining Texas prisons will receive the pills in the next twelve months, Collier said.
“We also have the opportunity for telehealth programs,” state Rep. Carl Sherman, D-DeSoto, told the Opening Doors symposium.
Texas prison officials recently traveled to Oklahoma to observe the deployment of this same technology in that state.
“I’ve never seen a tablet, never, never,” an inmate woman in Oklahoma said. “It’s crazy because I had it and it was like, ‘Oh, go, move it and move with me.’ I can’t stop getting in. I’m like ‘ooh, what’s that? “
The inmates receive their own computer tablet, charger and headphones.
“We put this technology in their hands and, once published, it better acclimatizes to the outdoors and to the technology that the public enjoys right now,” an Oklahoma official said.
Until now, an inmate’s connection to the outside world was rightly limited to phone calls, mail, and face-to-face visits. But the COVID 19 pandemic still restricted it. That’s when Texas started looking more closely at tablets, Collier said.
However, they are a privilege that can be removed or disabled.
In an era of criminal justice reform, technology also represents a new approach to improving security, morale, and education in Texas prisons.
In addition, a consistent connection with the outside world can also reduce recidivism.
“It’s going to change the game,” Collier said.