WAHOO – In a world that revolves around technology, Saunders County Law Enforcement and Judicial Center officials have recently incorporated tablet computers into the local jail facility.
Brian Styskal, jail director at the Saunders County Law Enforcement and Judicial Center, said after integration and training the tablets were made available to the inmates in October 2019.
“Tablet programs have been available in many jails and prisons across the country for several years,” Styskal said. “Saunders County entered into an agreement with their inmate telecommunications/visitation provider in 2018 to initiate a tablet program. We took our time on initiating this program as we wanted as smooth of an implementation as possible however when instituting any types of technology there are always issues that arise.”
Styskal said all of the equipment was provided by Securus as was the video visitation equipment.
“There was no cost to the county,” he said. “This was possible because revenue is generated through the use of this equipment. Saunders County does receive a percentage of that revenue as well.
The tablets are designed to allow only a limited amount of apps and programs for the inmates, Styskal said.
“As far as the tablets go, the inmates cannot access any social media or conduct any internet searches such as what people outside of corrections can, they don’t have access beyond what is directly tied to the program,” he said.
Styskal said there is content available to the inmates such as self-betterment material, law library, the inmate handbook and certain forms and information that they allow access to. He also said any inmate who shows appropriate behavior can access this basic content free of charge on what he refers to as “community tablets” that can be checked out for an hour.
“There are approximately 25 community tablets available in the facility on each of the eight housing units,” he said. “Inmates whose behavior has been acceptable and who have funds to do so can rent a tablet for a fee of five dollars for the month. When inmates do this, for a fee they can rent some basic games, books and podcasts. All of this material has been deemed acceptable for a jail/prison setting.”
While Styskal said that he was skeptical at first about the tablets, he said he initially understood that many people have the idea that because the inmates are in jail, they should not be allowed privileges like tablets.
“With corrections being such an unknown entity for the general public, highlighting some of these technical programs has the potential to make it sound like we are running a resort and not a jail,” he said. “This could not be further from the truth. In a corrections environment it is easy to say they are going to be minimalistic and provide only the most basic items required by law but that approach does little for the majority of inmates who will be returning to our communities.”
Styskal said it also does little for the people who are brave enough to work in the challenging environment of a correctional facility.
“If you provide nothing to give the inmates then there is essentially no incentive to behave,” he said. “Having inmates with no reason to behave can make an already difficult job nearly impossible.”
Another technical option that inmates have had available since 2009 is the video visitation program. These visits are conducted through a video link as opposed to face-to-face contact.
“It’s kind of like Facetime or Skype,” Styskal said. “We are mandated to provide visitation for the inmates. The video visitation system is an important security tool for us since it meets the requirement of providing inmate visitation but does not necessitate visitors enter the secure confines of the facility, thus eliminating visitors potentially trafficking contraband into the facility and committing other violations.”
Styskal said there is a fee that is associated with this type of visit.
“All video visits, regardless of type, are monitored to ensure there rule compliance,” he said. “Visitation is important since maintaining family ties will be helpful for inmates being re-integrated back into society and hopefully not returning to criminal behavior.”
According to Styskal, a system of kiosks has been put in the housing units that allow inmates to purchase food and hygiene items beyond the basics that are provided. This system has been in place since 2015.
“The use of this system and its electronic communication features assists in reducing our paper usage and saves money while meeting the stringent retention requirements of maintaining these documents,” he said. “The facility is really short on storage space so anytime communication can occur electronically it helps out.”
Overall, Styskal sees how technology has the potential to benefit everyone.
“It definitely makes it better for the staff if you categorize the cameras and other systems that are in place that will allow for better monitoring and security,” he said. “I think it would be safe to assume that most inmates like the tablets as well as the kiosks and video visitation, however, there’s always a segment of the population that will try to abuse anything available.”