Denver jail inmates receive tablets to make calls, access education

People in Denver’s jails will no longer have to wait their turn to call family members after the sheriff’s department introduced hundreds of tablet computers that also allow access to books, podcasts and other resources.

The Denver Sheriff Department expanded its contract with Securus Technologies to provide 1,729 tablets to the approximately 1,700 people incarcerated in its two jails. Nearly every person will have access to a tablet, which can be used to make phone calls, send emails, read books, study for the GED and look for jobs.

The goal is to help people stay connected with their families and find resources that might help them after they are released from jail, Sheriff Elias Diggins said.

“We are a progressive sheriff’s depart that believes in helping people get back to the community better than how they were when they got here,” he said.

Before the tablets were introduced last week, people in the jails often had to wait their turn to make calls from the facilities’ phones. Each housing unit has up to six phones to be shared by up to 60 people.

The tablets don’t give users direct access to the internet and are built so they can’t be taken apart. Previous versions of tablets introduced into prisons and jails had been taken apart and turned into weapons, Diggins said.

“They are now very safe,” he said.

Other jails in the state previously introduced the tablets, including those in Jefferson and Douglas County.

Some of the content, like educational material and books, is free while some cost money, like music and games.

“Premium media prices vary by category, but we mirror the same purchasing model as consumers buying from iTunes or any other online entertainment provider,” Securus said in a statement.

Phone calls on the tablets cost 9 cents a minute, which is the same rate people in the jail pay to call on the phones installed in the housing units. Emails cost 29 cents per message.

Securus Technologies — one of the largest corrections communications companies in the country — provided the tablets to the jail at no cost but will collect revenue from phone calls and purchases on the tablets, Diggins said. The sheriff’s department already contracted with the company for phones.

Last year, the company collected $894,731 in revenue from phone calls in the two jails, according to data gathered by the state.

Securus also pays the sheriff’s department a fee that covers the cost of phone infrastructure and the salaries of two investigators who monitor calls.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would make phone calls from prison free for families by having the state pay for it. One of the bill’s sponsors said in the future she’d like to consider expanding such legislation to jails.

Diggins said the department has not discussed shifting the cost of phone calls to the city from families of people in the jail.

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