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WV prisons offer inmate tablets


Oct. 25, 2019

W.Va. prisons offer inmate tablets


CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia’s Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation has made electronic tablets available to inmates at its prison facilities.


These handheld devices are specifically designed for correctional settings. Their safety features include a highly secure, customized operating system and wide-ranging access controls. At no cost to taxpayers, Global Tel Link provides the tablets through its inmate banking services contract with the state’s prison system.


Available tablet apps offer email, video visitation, and multimedia including electronic and audio books, music, games and movies. They lack a normal browser, but do allow access to select websites through GTL’s secure proprietary wireless network. The roster of sites covers several categories: news; education and career; health and wellness; religion and spirituality; legal and finance; and sports and entertainment. The devices will soon help inmates submit requests, file and pursue grievances, and order from the facility commissary.


“The tablets give inmates the incentive to behave and follow the rules, so they don’t lose this privilege,” said DCR Regional Director J.T. Binion. “They have given inmates an opportunity to visit with family and friends who are not able to make it to the facility. It allows their children to have more contact with them This has seemed to improve inmate moral overall.”


Free apps include the popular Khan Academy, developed by the international educational non-profit and featuring 7,000 videos and 20,000 interactive exercises on such subjects as math, science, history, economics. Another is CareerOneStop from the U.S. Department of Labor, offering a full range of career, training, and job search resources to assist with offender reentry.


All apps and sites are DCR-approved. Each facility can set additional limits. Inmates do not pay for the devices, but as with regular tablets some apps carry fees. The control features allow facilities to monitor every active tablet at all times and shut off one, some or all as necessary. Inmates cannot access device settings other than volume, screen rotation, and brightness.


GTL has around 130,000 tablets at correctional facilities across the country, including 867 at the 10 DCR prison facilities. West Virginia’s tablet program began as a pilot at the Saint Marys Correctional Center last year. Then-Superintendent Patrick Mirandy said he saw the tablets improve facility safety for both staff and inmates.


“Having access to email communication allowed for less paper mail to be processed through our mail room,” said Mirandy, now operations chief for DCR’s Bureau of Community Corrections. “This afforded staff to spend more time looking for contraband that may be contained in the mail.”


Mirandy also recalled when an inmate was unable to attend his father’s funeral on a furlough because it was out-of-state.


“He wrote a eulogy and had his sister read it at their father’s funeral while he observed through video visitation on the tablet,” Mirandy said. “He was most appreciative, and this would not have been possible in the past without the tablets.”


After the months-long trial period, the program expanded over time to the other prison facilities. DCR plans to eventually offer them at the Bureau of Community Correction’s work-release centers. A longer-term goal is to provide them at the state’s 10 regional jails, through a future inmate services contract.


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LAWRENCE MESSINA (304) 558-2930 Lawrence.C.Messina@wv.gov