Inmate tablets serve multiple purposes

By Jim Hagerty

DOWNTOWN — The Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department can expect to generate around $1 million per year in revenue from its new inmate tablet program.

Those funds will come from the county’s share of what inmates pay for phone calls on their new Android tablets, which arrived this week.

“They pay 27.5 cents per minute for phone calls that comes out of money they have on their books or a friend or relative puts into their accounts,” Jail Superintendent Bob Redmond said.

Per a contract with Global Tel Link (GTL), the county keeps 23 cents per call. That’s about $870,000. There is also an annual signing bonus of $34,000. All revenue will go to the county’s general fund. The agreement is for one year with four years renewable after that.

There’s another economic upside. There is no burden to taxpayers, a welcomed factor for a cash-strapped county with an $8 million deficit.

“It costs us nothing,” Redmond said. “We didn’t have to subscribe to a cable company, get high-speed internet or anything like that. This is all internal with the company.”

Redmond said tablets will reduce fights, many of which are sparked by arguments over phone time, and streamline the information process for the inmates.

With tablets, inmates are no longer forced to use the small bank of desktop computers to access the law library. There’s now a mobile app for that. There are religious materials, parenting and job classes and GED study materials, which Redmond said will improve that that process for the 50 or so inmates enrolled in that program. Tablets have physical cameras, but they’re disabled. External speakers do not function either. One pair of ear buds is provided. Additional ones can be purchased through commissary.

In addition to phone capabilities, the tablets are equipped with a messaging feature. It’s not email though. The devices are not connected to the internet. It is a texting app that is set up on the outside through GTL. A message of up to 2,000 characters is $.25 to send. But, unlike standard texts, they aren’t received instantly. Messages are screened by jail officials, a process that takes up to two hours.

“But they’ll cut down on the mail that comes in and out of here,” Redmond said.

Each tablet corresponds with a jail identification number. That means each inmate is responsible for his or her device. If one turns up missing or intentionally damaged, the inmate will lose tablet privileges, transferred to a tablet-free pod and prosecuted. Privileges can also be forfeited for other infractions that so far haven’t occurred.

Tablets are not provided to inmates in holding cells or those lodged in the mental health and behavioral units.

The tablets arrived just behind dozens of sheriff’s department layoffs. And now because there are only about 40 officers left to man the jail, there’s a lot of inmate lockdown time–four hours a day for each pod. Redmond said having tablets during solitary confinement will ease some of the frustration for those in lockup and jailers.

“Inmates are normally allowed out in the general housing units from 8 a.m. to 10:30 at night,” he said. “Because of the shortage of officers, they have a lot of down time in their cells. At least this will occupy their time.”

Tablets are available to inmates from 8 a.m. to midnight. They’re charged and stored in mobile charging ports. All tablets are expected to be distributed by the end of the week. The devices are not replacing any of the jail’s 100 phones. R.

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