NYC Corrections Department Expands Inmate Tablet Program

The New York City Department of Correction has increased the use of tablets since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to help offer information and resources to the individuals in custody within its facilities.

The New York City Department of Correction (DOC) has increased its use of tablets for individuals in custody since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep individuals connected to important resources, and plans are in place to continue to expand on the program even more.

Tablets have proven to be a useful tool in improving behavioroffering classes and even as a substitute for the in-person visits curtailed by the pandemic.

What initially started as a pilot program has since been expanded to allow the majority of inmates in DOC facilities to have access to a tablet.

Frances Taormina, director of program management at DOC, noted that while the tablets were originally piloted as an incentive for good behavior, the positive impact of the devices was quickly realized by both individuals and staff. During COVID-19, when other types of programming were restricted to ensure safety of individuals and staff, it was evident that tablets were a beneficial tool that should be accessible to as many people as possible.

First Deputy Commissioner Stanley Richards explained that the tablets’ primary purpose is to give those incarcerated individuals something to do to stay engaged.

“As we keep people engaged, as we give people tools and information for them to rethink the direction of their lives, I think we’re all better off,” he said.

With over 1,000 tablets in circulation, nearly every individual within DOC facilities has access to their own tablet, Richards explained. There are several exceptions, such as for those in the restrictive housing unit, those in new admissions units and those in asymptomatic COVID-19 housing.

With these tablets, individuals can access an array of materials, from college preparation activities to virtual tours of museums to religious texts, according to Richards.

Other resources include LGBTQ+ support resources and inspirational recordings like Chris Wilson’s “The Master Plan,” which details his journey of re-entry into society after completing his time in prison.

Richards noted that because the tablets are connected to Wi-Fi without Internet, individuals are only able to access the pre-loaded, approved content.

Device use can also be monitored by staff, both to ensure proper use and to add content based on what people are using most frequently.

DOC has also created the new position of tablet coordinators, which will be staff that are dedicated to monitoring activity, managing inventory and handling troubleshooting for the tablets. These staff members would also be able to offer some support for use for those who are not very technologically savvy.

Stanley said that ensuring people in custody have the proper access to resources and tools will help to ensure that they are contributing members of society upon release and will help to prevent them from returning to custody. Technology, he said, is both a re-entry and prevention approach.

“We’re in this moment where we could rethink the way corrections operates,” Stanley stated.

The initial pilot was led by the nonprofit Partnership for New York City (PFNYC) and American Prison Data Systems (APDS).

As APDS co-founder and Chief Business Development Officer Arti V. Finn stated in a written response, APDS was originally working with the incarcerated population under 18 in 2015. A key goal was to increase access to educational programming while in custody to help transition back to school post-release.

Finn cited that inmates with access to education were found to be 43 percent less likely to return to prison than those who did not.

Original Story Here.

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