Inmate tablets generating revenue, incentivizing good behavior, warden says

The county prison board in April approved inmate use of about 350 tablet computers the prison received as part of a 2017 telecommunications contract


By Jeff Horvath
The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.

LACKAWANNA COUNTY, Pa. — Correctional-grade tablet computers at Lackawanna County Prison are generating revenue and incentivizing good behavior among inmates, Warden Tim Betti said.

After months of review, the county prison board in late April approved a policy governing inmate use of about 350 tablet computers the prison received as part of a 2017 telecommunications contract with Virginia-based Global Tel-Link Corp. County officials had discussed the tablets on and off for years, but former Commissioner Laureen Cummings was adamantly opposed to them and no policy had been approved.

Prison officials introduced the tablets in early May, Betti said. That’s when county commissioners approved an amendment to the telecommunications contract that boosted the county’s share of revenue generated by inmate tablet use from 20% to 25% and guaranteed inmates three minutes a day of free, secure messaging via the devices. Inmates can pay to purchase content, including music and videos, on the devices.

The devices have been well received and have not created significant issues in the almost five months that they’ve been available to the prison population, the warden said.

“I think that the inmates appreciate having the tablets and I think it’s certainly helped them get through the changes that occurred here because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Betti said. “It certainly helped them in their isolation during that time period, because of the fact that they can download music and they can download certain videos. We do have control over what music and what videos are available, so it’s not like they’re downloading anything that would be highly questionable.”

The tablets operate on a closed network — an intranet instead of the internet — giving prison officials control over the music, videos, games and other media inmates can purchase and access.

The entertainment options, monitored messaging and other features of the tablets produce between $4,000 and $5,000 worth of revenue for the county per month, Betti said.

Commissioner Debi Domenick, a chief advocate of the tablet-use policy, argued the tablets also eliminate a potential source of contraband at the jail.

Except for legal mail from attorneys, all physical mail, including mailed letters and photographs, is now scanned and made available to inmates via the devices. That eliminates the potential for drugs — including liquid Suboxone soaked into paper — or other contraband to be smuggled into the prison via the mail, Domenick said.

Because the inmates enjoy the tablets, and because prison officials can rescind tablet privileges, Betti argued the devices incentivize good behavior among inmates who could lose access for violating the tablet-use policy or other prison rules.

“It’s a great tool for us, because number one it keeps them occupied, but number two it’s something that we can take away from them for behavior modification purposes,” Betti said. “When you get right down to it the inmates want these tablets, so they’re not going to abuse these tablets — they’re not going to abuse a situation which would result in us taking the tablet from them.”

©2020 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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