Computer tablets bringing benefits to administration, inmates at St. Lawrence County Jail
By JIMMY LAWTON
CANTON -- Tablets issued to inmates last year at St. Lawrence County last year are providing major time and cost-savings for the jail, according to administrators.
The tablets, which are small computers, were controversial among the public when they were issued in 2016, but Jail Administrator Peggy Harper said the devices have provided many benefits for employees and inmates alike.Harper says the tablets have allowed the staff to digitize much of what was traditionally done with paper.
The tablets allow the county to provide many inmate services by giving them access to digital commissary ordering, crime tips, PREA reports, paperless grievances and many other services.
She said the tablets save some staff time, reduce human error and cut back on paper costs.
Harper says the tablets also provide inmates with better access to legal help as required by law.
A 1996 Supreme Court decision dealing with access to the courts states that the correctional institutions have an affirmative duty to provide some form of assistance, such a libraries or persons trained in the law, to give inmates the capability of filing non-frivolous lawsuits challenging their sentence or the conditions of their confinement.
Prior to tablets, inmates would have to submit requests and staff would then track down the necessary materials. This process was messy according to Harper, because inmates couldn’t easily browse for the material. She says tablets have improved access to such materials and streamlined the process.
The tablets are paid for though commissary system. The tablets allow inmates purchase entertainment, which is controlled by jail staff. Harper says inmates are also able to see their balance instantly though the tablets.
“They’ve provided some checks and balances,” she said “and at no cost to the county.”
According to the manufacturer the tablets are linked to Telmate Verified, an automated identity verification system that authenticates every system user and action including deposits, photos and messages; and Telmate Investigator, an advanced suite of crime solving tools that gives investigators valuable insights into the personal networks of inmates.
And while critics have complained about the access to entertainment, Harper said the benefits have been a boon from an administrative perspective and have even been useful in the prevention of crime in some cases.
“I think they have really improved efficiency of many services at the jail,” she said.
The tablets have been in the field for over four years, are used in nearly 70 correctional facilities nationwide, generating over 10 million minutes of monthly usage.
In St. Lawrence County the tablet implementation is part of Telmate’s partnership with Trinity Services Group, Inc., the nation's largest provider of food service and commissary services.