Company Offers Educational Tablets to Prisoners, with Mixed Results
A new educational product offered by a private company is being provided to prisoners in an increasing number of the nation’s jails – computer tablets supplied by Chicago-based Edovo (a name derived from “Education Over Obstacles”).
Edovo tablets include interactive educational and therapeutic programming, from GED preparation and math courses to cognitive behavioral programs and faith-based studies. For time spent on such programs, prisoners are rewarded with sanitized entertainment at about a one-to-one ratio; i.e., for each hour spent on education, an hour of entertainment is awarded.
Over the past several years Edovo tablets have been adopted in jails in Alabama, California and Pennsylvania, as well as facilities operated by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice. In those jurisdictions, the tablets are made available to prisoners at a cost of about $2 per day – the tablets are typically purchased using funds from inmate welfare accounts, and provided to prisoners at no cost. Of course, the money in inmate welfare accounts usually comes from prisoners and their families through commissary purchases, visitation vending machine revenue and phone commission kickbacks.
Edovo CEO Brian Hill said he launched the tablet program through his desire to merge a profitable product with publicly-beneficial goals, such as reducing recidivism. Education, Hill stated, is integral to stopping the “revolving door” of prison, release and re-incarceration experienced by too many prisoners. As noted in a 2013 RAND report, prisoners who participate in educational programs are 43% less likely to recidivate.
Predictably, however, the introduction of computer tablets into prisons and jails has not been without mishaps, as problems tend to develop when new technology and the security-centric culture of correctional facilities intersect.
For example, in March 2015, only five days into a six-month pilot program to allow prisoners to use tablets to access educational and therapeutic programming, the Napa County Department of Corrections in California pulled the devices out of its jail. The move came amid allegations that prisoners were trying to use the tablets to gain access to the Internet.
The jail purchased the touchscreen computer tablets from Edovo when the company was known by its prior name, Jail Education Solutions. The idea was to allow prisoners to use the devices to access vocational programs, GED courses, Khan Academy lectures, a literacy study, behavior therapy and anger management classes. Viewing the educational and therapeutic programs allowed prisoners to earn credits that could be used to play selected movies, music and other forms of entertainment on the tablets. The project was launched using $25,000 from the state and the jail’s inmate welfare fund to purchase 80 tablets.
Edovo’s tablets run on customized software that restricts access to wireless Internet service. According to Bret Prebula, Napa County’s staff services manager, at least two prisoners tried to perform factory resets on the devices to bypass the security software and allow access to external wireless networks. Hill doesn’t believe the prisoners succeeded.
“The ability to contact a router through several layers of concrete and rebar, it’s pretty impossible,” said Hill. “And wire-mesh glass is a Wi-Fi killer for sure. This environment is incredibly non-conducive to a Wi-Fi signal.”
Prebula said the tablets would be inspected by Edovo for security flaws and then returned to the prisoners once any issues are resolved.
Sources: Napa Valley Register, www.forbes.com, www.chicagoinno.streetwise.com
Ed. Note - This article includes corrections to the original print version.