Inmates at Missouri state prisons tinker with new tablets

inmates and tablets

CHARLESTON, MO (KFVS) - The majority of inmates at the Southeast Correctional Center, in Charleston, Missouri got an early Christmas gift this year.

The Missouri Department of Corrections is joining several other states prison systems that are giving prisoners tablets.

The electronics are a part of new incentive program, so inmates who are well behaved get access to more apps. The devices are also an educational tool for offenders to get acquainted with new technology and keep them connected with friends and family.

Randy Knese has been in prison for 23 years and said he has never used a smart phone or been on the internet. He was very excited to get the tablet.

“It was the anticipation of getting something we have never had before,” Knese said. “As soon as you got it back to your cell, you wanted to turn it on and play with it just like a little kid at Christmas time. You just couldn’t wait to get inside and see what it could do.”

Inmates at the Charleston prison got the tablets a few weeks ago and can already download music and email family and friends but are not able to message other prisoners.

Knese has written a lot of letters while behind bars and said the email system is a quicker, two-way communication with pen pals and his family.

“I can send a message to somebody and they are going to get it that day," he said. "Where as here in the prison it is really snail mail because it goes up to the mail room they have to review the letter and make sure there is nothing in the contents before it can get out.”

Inmate Rodney Neely loves listening music, but said it’s a pain to get new songs because it can take one to two months for a new CD to come in.

“It was like Fred Flinstone and Barney Rubble with feet coming out of the bottom of the car," Neely said. "And now we are driving in hover crafts. It’s like night and day, the difference.”

Now Neely can download a song in a matter of minutes by connecting his tablet to a kiosk that has Wifi. He said relatives have already started recommending songs he needs to listen to.

“You can remember songs throughout the course of your life that you really want to go back to sometimes," Neely said. "My cousin sends me her favorite song, and my mother is like do you remember this when you were a kid? Yeah mom I got that. It’s a connection that is built. It’s a way we can stay in touch and in tune with those that we love that you can’t put a cost to it.”

Captain Gregory Hancock said the devices are on a closed network and are monitored by staff with the company JPay which issued the tablets.

“The tablets are provided at no cost to Missouri tax payers, or the offenders or their families,” Hancock said. “The Department of Corrections and JPay worked out a system where the funding comes through JPay when inmates pay to send emails, or pay for songs and other paid for services.”

Captain Gregory Hancock with Southeast Correctional Center said other state prisons that have had the tablet program for years have seen a reduction in misconduct.

According to JPay, staff at a prison in Pima County Arizona report that assaults decreased by 60 percent after tablet installation and offender on offender assaults are down 40 percent.

Each inmate owns their tablet. They can keep it for their entire stay and take it outside the building upon their released.

“I can save up my emails or my pictures as long as I don’t go over the limit of the storage space, and anything I have in here it belongs to me forever,” Knese said.

As time goes on more and more features with be added to tablet system. Soon inmates will be able to download movies, games and educational videos which can help them find and apply for jobs.

Neely said he plans to explore the many courses he can download on an app called Kind Academy.

“You have math, science, economics and finance, arts and humanities, computing, test preparation, and college admissions,” Neely said. “Man I barely made it through high school. I had to go get a GED and here I am going to figure out how to get to college. If my granddaughter has a questions I can say look baby this is what you’ve got to do. I can help her reach those goals she is trying to attain. To be relevant in someones life again even though I am not there, that is priceless.”

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