San Francisco’s county jail has become the first jail in the nation to provide free access to content like legal resources, e-books and music via tablets to incarcerated people.
Announced on Thursday, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office said it completed the launch of its tablet program, which built off a pilot program started nine years ago to enhance education opportunities for people in custody.
“This is an important enhancement to our justice system that will help continue our reform work that eliminates the high costs of incarceration,” said Mayor London Breed. “People in our jail system should have access to technology resources that afford them the opportunity to develop new skills and stay connected while they serve their time.”
Deputies said they saw an even greater need for tablets during the COVID-19 pandemic, when in-person visitation and programming were prohibited.
“With help from our City partners, we have been able to build up this program to offer a broad range of free media that has never been afforded to people in any jail, and will take the financial burden off of incarcerated people’s families,” said Sheriff Paul Miyamoto. “This is ultimately about reducing recidivism and bolstering crime prevention. Giving people the tools they need in order to learn and access media can be a motivating factor as they look toward a life beyond jail.”
Thanks to the San Francisco Public Library, incarcerated people will be able to stream media like e-books, entertainment and music for free via hundred of tablets. People can also view essential legal and reentry resources, file commissary orders and medical requests and submit grievances.
“We know that low literacy and barriers to education contribute to the prison pipeline, and that having access to information and library services can change the trajectory of someone’s life,” said City Librarian Michael Lambert. “We are committed to improving the outcomes for our justice-involved patrons and to set a new standard of service for our industry.”
Other jails around the country also offer tablet services for people in jail, though at a cost. Incarcerated people’s families, who are disproportionately people of color or low-income, are sent a bill for charges like three cents a minute for reading an ebook.
“It’s not about sitting back and listening to music all day, it does provide resources and information on how to break the cycle, and … it helps with mental health,” said David Thornton, from County Jail #3, who deputies say has been learning law and coding via tablets.