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Tablets being distributed to men’s prisons in South Dakota

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  • COURTESY PHOTO

    Tablet computers, soon to be available to every inmate in South Dakota’s prison system, can help decrease rates of recidivism, experts say.

PIERRE, S.D. >> Tablet computers will soon be available to every inmate in South Dakota’s prison system.

The program is aimed at helping inmates access educational programs and maintain ties to friends and family, which experts say can help decrease rates of recidivism. Taxpayers won’t be footing the bill for the touchscreen tablets, which are being given to the state Department of Corrections by telephone provider Global Tel Link.

The tablets will be connected to a closed network, so inmates won’t be able to access the internet or log into sites like Facebook or Twitter, The Argus Leader reported. For a charge, inmates will be able to talk to and text family and friends, though no photos or attachments will be allowed. Inmates also will have paid access to games, music and e-books through monthly subscriptions.

Colorado, Georgia and Indiana are among the states with similar programs.

Corrections officials said distribution of the tablets should be completed by mid-June at the men’s prisons in Rapid City, Yankton, Springfield and Sioux Falls. Female inmates in Pierre already have the tablets.

Re-offense rates drop when inmates maintain family ties, so longer phone calls and messages through the tablets may be beneficial, according to state Department of Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk. He said tablets may also provide opportunities for GED and college-level courses, anger management programs and other instructional programs.

“Education’s really going to be a strong feature for us here in South Dakota,” Kaemingk said. “The more education someone receives, the lower the recidivism will be.”

Phone calls and messages on tablets will be recorded and stored for potential monitoring.

Minnehaha County Jail also recently added some tablets. Lt. Mike Mattson of the local sheriff’s office said with controls in place, the tablets are a clear positive for officers and inmates. He noted that unlike prison, where inmates have jobs to fill their time, jail inmates have little to do but sit.

“There’s a lot of idle time in here,” Mattson said. “If we can fill that idle time with positive things — or even just busy things — that’s a lot better for us.”

Department of Corrections policies will be uploaded to the tablets, along with legal libraries, complaint forms and all-prison messages. Inmates will have access to six websites: Fox News, CNN, NASA, the White House, the Smithsonian and a Christian website called Crosswalk.

The tablets will eventually be used to maintain inmate banking records and track purchases from the commissary.

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