By: John Rogers
SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Sarasota County Jail has just unveiled a new program. Every inmate has been given a tablet and it’s been done at no cost to taxpayers.
This technology provides benefits for both the inmates and the corrections officers.
The 900 men and women at the Sarasota County Jail are paying for their crimes, but they still have the right to improve themselves.
Tech company GTL has given every inmate a tablet.
It’s free of charge to the county. The funding comes through apps the inmate may choose to purchase. But there are many free options, including educational courses and games.
Education can play a huge role in reducing recidivism.
But most importantly, the inmates can make calls and receive photos from loved ones.
“When a family member gets sent to jail, its more than that. The family on the outside is suffering too. So really to strengthen that bond and to be able to contact their families, that is a huge reason why we brought these in,” said Major Brian Meinberg.
Its much more effective than the traditional pay phone. For example, in one of the jail’s pods there are two pay phones that are shared by 48 inmates.
“It was chaotic and again, this is why the tablets are so great, because now they can sit in their cells, call their loved ones… It sort of does tie them into the outside a little more than we’ve had here in the past,” said Major Meinberg.
The tablets have virtually replaced books, which have been used to smuggle contraband. But the program has its critics.
“Some of us prefer books to machines,” said jail chaplain Hugh Burns.
Burns doesn’t like that these tablets have replaced physical bibles.
“They’re not user friendly and some of these guys are not, not computer savvy,” said Burns.
“Change is never easy, but this is a positive change for us,” said Major Meinberg.
Other jails nationwide have reported a drop in violence after starting this program, since it keeps inmates occupied and reduces inmate/officer interaction.
According to GTL, these tablets can allow inmates to make requests, submit grievances and order commissary items without officer assistance. This saves time and money in reduced paperwork and officer manpower.
The inmates cannot access questionable material online, because they will be connected to an intranet at the jail, which will prevent them from going to inappropriate websites.
More apps will be unveiled in the coming weeks, including apps that will allow these inmates to listen to podcasts and even watch movies.