Tablets for Allegheny County Jail inmates deemed a success

Corrections officers report the jail is calm when inmates use them

By Aaron Aupperlee
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

GREENSBURG, Pa. — Inmates at the Allegheny County Jail use new tablet computers to take parenting classes, practice meditation programs and study for GED exams, the head of inmate programs said Monday.

Corrections officers report the jail is calm when inmates use them, said Jack Pischke, inmate program administrator.

“You can tell a difference when the inmates have them,” Pischke said. “It's all been positive.”

The tablets, basic but secure Samsung models, arrived about three weeks ago.

The county spent $105,000 to buy 40 tablets and pay for the hardware and a $2 daily rental fee to Jail Education Solutions, a Chicago-based company that supplies specially designed tablets to jails nationwide. The company donated 80 tablets to the jail, bringing the total to 120.

“(There's) more than enough for each inmate on a pod to have one,” Pischke said, adding there are no fights among inmates for access to the tablets.

Funding for the tablets came from the inmate welfare fund, which receives money from phone call fees and commissary sales.

Inmates can't access Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, or have free rein on the Internet. Popular games such as Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga aren't allowed.

The tablets are enclosed in a hard case and can only access a network when inmates are in the pod's day room. There have been no reports of inmates attempting to hack or damage the tablets, Pischke said.

The tablets come pre-loaded with educational, vocational and treatment-oriented software intended to give inmates a constructive alternative to watching television or playing cards to pass the time behind bars, Deputy Warden LaToya Warren said in March when the Jail Oversight Advisory Board approved the pilot tablet program.

Jail Education Solutions showed GED, parenting and meditation classes were among the most popular, Pischke said.

The tablets alternate between male and female pods, Pischke said. The jail will likely review the program in three months and decide whether it wants to purchase more tablets.

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