CALDWELL — Now that Canyon County jail inmates have been using tablets for over 6 months, jail officials say the new efforts have shown positive results.
As first reported by the Idaho Press-Tribune in November, Canyon County entered into an agreement with Telmate to provide tablets to inmates. Critics questioned whether inmates should be given the technology while behind bars. But officials say the program benefits the county in the end.
“While it seems like a perk for the inmates, we find when we deploy these tablets inmates behave better,” said Craig Diamond, director of marketing for Telmate, the company that supplies Canyon County with inmate communication technology.
The tablets are one example Diamond and Canyon County jail employees call “behavior modification tools.”
“Bored inmates are angry inmates,” Diamond said. “These tablets are a privilege for the inmates.”
Lt. Andy Kiehl said there are 10 tablets available for inmates to share at the Canyon County jail. Currently, there are almost 400 inmates in the Canyon County jail. When an inmate is being punished, he can have his tablet privileges taken away.
“It’s a babysitter, basically,” Kiehl said.
The new tablets, which are basic Android devices with customized operating systems installed, are completely cost-free to Canyon County and local taxpayers. Diamond said the money for the tablets comes from inmates and their relatives.
To use a tablet, an inmate can either choose a free option, which provides him with tools to research laws and legal matters or he can choose different payment options that charge so much money per minute to use messaging applications, games, videos or more.
According to Diamond, inmates have a strict, limited access to jail-approved Internet sites.
Family members who wish to communicate through the tablets must also pay per minute.
“The majority of the company’s profit comes from the inmates and their family,” Diamond said.
Telmate, a for-profit company based in San Francisco, provides communication technology for more than 300 incarceration facilities nationwide.
It has been working with the Canyon County jail for a number of years and provide inmates and their visitors with video calling devices that are located in the jail lobby. Last spring, they chose to bring their new tablets to Canyon County, cost free.
Kiehl said the money Telmate receives from the tablets goes back into supporting other communication devices.
“We have tablets in over 30 jails across the nation,” Diamond said. “And so far we have seen nothing but positive feedback from the program.”
Telmate’s main mission, according to Diamond, is to try to reduce the nation’s inmate population through positive influences.
“We want them to get out and stay out,” Diamond said. “We are all people who love to connect through technology. If we give people the proper tools to talk with their families, to see the outside world, we might be able to reform them.”
Telmate is a technology company that focuses on communication. Diamond says the company’s technology helps facilities like Canyon County’s run smarter. One example he gave was how inmates can now send digital grievances on the tablets.
Diamond said the tablets are Google Nexus devices with a highly secure, customized operating system installed. The tablets, about seven inches, were sent to the Canyon County jail with heavy duty, rubber cases attached.
Kiehl said they are almost indestructible. He dropped one on the ground as an example.
“We had one inmate try and break into the casing,” Kiehl said. “But they could only get the corner off.”
Kiehl said even if an inmate finds a way to break the tablet, Telmate will replace it for free.
To use the tablet, an inmate goes to where the tablets are stored and where there is a specialized hotspot. These hotspots are the only places where the tablets will connect to Internet. They use their inmate identification number to log in and choose among the free option or two other payment options.
Kiehl said inmates are offered a digital law library, spiritual material and a couple of other applications for free.
The Canyon County jail inmates already have access to desktop computers and information kiosks in the jail that provide this free material.
Inmates pay less than 5 cents a minute to use the tablets for music, games, online messaging to relatives and more. Inmate family members who create an account through Telmate can instant message inmates through the tablets for 25 cents per text message.
Canyon County jail inmates are allowed to use the tablets only during the day after breakfast and daily chores are completed. Inmates in higher security parts of the jail do not have access to the tablets.
Diamond said each facility that uses the Telmate tablets can pick and choose what content is provided to the inmates. While some facilities may let inmates access certain websites, such as news sources and online libraries, others can block inmates from the Internet.
“With the installed operating system, only allowed websites can be accessed,” Diamond said. “It’s a very high secure program.”
So far, no inmate has been able to break through the Telmate programming.
Diamond said one interesting result of the tablets being implemented into jail facilities is how it makes the inmates more social.
“People came to us with concerns saying the inmates might use the tablets as weapons,” he said. “But that’s not been the case. Instead, they are becoming more social and it is creating a positive environment.”
Kiehl said all the Canyon County jail inmates were trained on how to use the tablets, and every message sent to and from inmates is gathered as useful information for the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office.
“Everything is recorded,” Kiehl said. “We can see text messages, and we can use this information to strengthen cases.”
Telmate said if the program keeps becoming more popular, more tablets may be sent to the jail in the near future.