August 18, 2017 / Modified aug 18, 2017 4:07 p.m.

Episode 329: Logging in When You're Locked Up — Tablets in Jail

Pima County has the only facility in Arizona allowing inmates to use tablets.

Men and women in the Pima County Jail are using electronic tablets, making it the only facility in the state allowing such access, which the jail says comes at no cost to the county.

The pilot program started more than a year ago, and the tablets transformed the environment almost immediately.

Global Tel Link (GTL) manages the jail’s communication network for inmates. More than an year ago, the company asked if it could supply each of the 2,000 inmates with a tablet as a tool for inmate management. The jail agreed.

The pilot has transitioned to full implementation. The tablets are capable of making phone calls, sending emails, reading books, playing games and accessing self-help programs.

Inmates and their families pay for the services.

A phone call costs 20 cents a minute. An email of about 2,000 characters is 25 cents, as is a picture. Video messages for a dollar. Everything is vetted before it’s sent out or received, and the tablets have actually made money for the jail.

In the month of July, about 12,000 emails went through the tablet server and inmates logged nearly 700,000 minutes of phone calls, the county said.

In July, inmates purchased about $140,000 in tablet services. Global Tel Link and the jail split that money 50-50. The jail must use that $70,000 toward things that benefit the welfare of the inmates.

Pima County Jail Captain Sean Stewart said every week he gets calls from other jails and prisons around the country that are considering putting tablets in the hands of inmates. He said he believes the program will become the norm.

Global Tel Link and the jail monitor the activity of the inmates, who sign waivers agreeing to the conditions.

On average there are about 2,000 inmates in the Pima County Jail, and the ratio of inmates to officers is 70 to one. Jail administrators said inmate behavior has improved since the tablets went into the pods, making an officer’s job safer.

Global Tel Link operates communication systems in jails and prisons all over Arizona and the country, but Pima County is the only facility in Arizona currently using the tablets.

It costs the county about $94 a day to house an inmate, with an average stay of about 12 days.

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