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Some Michigan jails will allow inmates to use tablet computers

Glenn Fleishmann / Flickr Creative Commons / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Some Michigan jails are introducing technology to inmates, and jail officials say it creates a safer environment and improves productivity.

Last month, Sanilac County began a pilot program in cooperation with Securus Technologies – the company that provides the jail's video visitation and phone – to provide inmates with tablet computers for their use.

With the devices, inmates are able to access resources such as a library of approximately 10,000 readable items, some radio stations or music and job search tools.

Sanilac County Sheriff Garry Biniecki says the devices have given inmates in the county jail a positive way to occupy their time.

"The first thing I notice is that it's quiet; and even the inmates admit that – that it's a lot quieter around there," Biniecki said.

The devices will only be provided to inmates with good behavior.

"If we have documented history with them, they're not going to have access to them because there's nothing that says they have to have them," Biniecki said.

He hopes to be able to expand the services provided on the tablets.

"What I'm really hoping to be able to get out of this in the future is to have the inmates actually be able to work toward a GED or its equivalent," Biniecki said. "There's a lot of them that come through the jails that don't even have a high school diploma."

The devices were supplied to the jail at no cost to the county, and tax dollars will not pay for the services. While the program is currently free, soon inmates will be charged a flat monthly fee to use the computers.

"Hopefully we can make it more affordable to all the inmates," Biniecki said.

Use of the tablets will be restricted to certain times of the day, and they only connect to a network within the jail. There is also a master tablet that allows jail officials to monitor all activity.

Biniecki says Sanilac County is the first agency in the state to test the program.

"I think if we can use these as a training tool, I think that we will definitely see some benefit from this; and if not I'll do away with the program, but I think it's all going to be pluses for us," he said.

St. Clair County will begin allowing inmates to use tablets next month. The devices will only allow inmates to access their personal records, such as upcoming court dates and bond information. They will have approximately one tablet for every 10 inmates.

- Paulette Parker, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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