San Francisco Jail Inmates Get Computer Tablets, Will Only Have Access to Four Websites

Most of the 125 tablets will be distributed to men and women enrolled in a two-year, $275,000 pilot program.

Some San Francisco jail inmates are now in possession of computer tablets they can use to do homework, read novels and prepare for their criminal cases.

The tablets were distributed Wednesday to more than 100 inmates as part of a two-year, $275,000 pilot program.

The inmates will only have access four secure websites, including a law library. They can also use a calculator, an education application and an education curriculum developed by the jail's Five Keys Charter School.

Inmate Dennis Jones, an army veteran, has been in and out of the prison system for more than a decade. He is hoping the computer tablet can help him break the negative cycle and help him earn his high school diploma.

"I'm five credits shy of getting my diploma," Jones said. "I'm willing to work toward that goal — and hopefully this will help me."

Another inmate, Michael Hunter, believes technology is the way to get his life back on track.

"It can help me read," Hunter said of the computer tablet. "It can help me with my attention span, which is good when I get out on the street. I'll know how to work one of these things."

The tablets will be remotely monitored and can be easily disabled.

"We hope this will help bridge the digital divide and provide inmates access to technology that every elementary, middle and high school student already has, but has been out of reach for those forgotten by society,'' said Steve Good, the charter school's executive director.

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said the tablets could help make sure inmates don't return to jail.

"This is really cutting edge,'' he told a group of sheriff's deputies and charter school teachers receiving tablet training Tuesday. "Historically, there's been resistance, if not prohibitions, on allowing technology into the living quarters of inmates.''

New York-based American Prison Data Systems developed the tablets. The company also provides the devices to juvenile jails in Kansas and Indiana and an adult prison system in Maryland, CEO Chris Grewe said.

The pilot program is being funded by a $75,000 grant from the California Wellness Foundation, $75,000 from the city's Adult Probation Department and $125,000 from Five Keys Charter School, Good said.

Most of the 125 tablets will be distributed to men and women already enrolled in Five Keys programs, and the inmates will get to keep them for most of the day.

NBC Bay Area's Cheryl Hurd contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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