Tablets in Corrections

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2016/03/tablets-and-corrections/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today’s topic is tablets in corrections, a pretty interesting topic, I think so. Chenault Taylor, Director of Public Relationships for Edovo, www.Edovo.com, is by our microphones. Randy Kearse, a re-entry consultant at www.ReentryStrategies.com … Randy has a book and a video. The video is Beyond Prison Probation and Parole. To Chenault and to Randy, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Randy: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Leonard: All right. Guys, give me a sense at to … I’ll start off with you, Chenault, and give me a sense at to what Edovo does, and how you got to meet Randy and incorporate Randy’s materials into what you’re doing.

Chenault: Yeah, absolutely. Edovo is an educational technology company that operates in correctional facilities, and we use tablet technology to bring daily access programming to incarcerated users across the country. We focus on educational programming, meaning academic, vocational, and behavioral therapy programming. We connected with Randy. Actually, Randy reached out to us about bringing his theories and the work he does onto our tablets. I’ll let him speak more in depth as to what he does, but his resources and his time, both in incarceration and [inaudible 00:01:36] work he’s done since, has been enormously interesting to us. Particularly, from a social psychology perspective, it’s always more valuable when you have people who have been in their shoes, people who have been incarcerated, and people who have been successful afterwards, talking to you as an incarcerated individual. That’s how we connect with Randy, and I’ll let him tell you exactly what he does. We’re really excited about it.

Leonard: Randy, go ahead.

Randy: As you know, I’m a prison re-entry consultant, based on my personal experience of being incarcerated. I have a company Prison Re-entry Strategies, and we create media content to help incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals successfully transition back to society. What we do through books, and film, and interactive media, we create programs that will hopefully help people make that transition back to their communities, their families, and society as a whole. I connected with Edovo because I liked what they were doing, the innovative, bringing tablets into prisons.

Most importantly, I did the research on them, and I liked their model for focusing on the education and vocational, and all of the things that they do to prepare people. I’m sure we’re going to get into the pros and cons of tablets being in the prisons, but I created a film series called Beyond Prison Probation and Parole. It’s a series that focuses on people who have formerly been incarcerated and have transitioned back to society successfully, so it was a good fit. What they did was take what I’ve done, the film series, and created a whole curriculum around that film series, which … It’s an awesome opportunity to help people make that successful transition back to society.

Leonard: Many in corrections see tablets as the holy grail, allowing unfettered contact with family and other pro-social elements, plus use of tablets for educational and vocational purposes. I say that from the standpoint and with a recognition that I’ve been around the re-entry movement now for decades. We’ve all talked about the need for vocational training, for substance abuse training, for mental health issues, for making sure that the offender inside of a prison has constant contact with pro-social elements, his family members, his mom, his dad, other people in the community that could help him. Yet, all of that, that whole package, everything that I just described turns out to be enormously expensive, and most correctional systems don’t have the money to do it.

The sense was that if you could have a person in the country, say, from one location, say, the Department of Justice, say, it’s Randy, and Randy could be doing courses either recorded or live, and deliver that information via tablets, we could open up vocational, educational programs, substance abuse programming, to inmates, millions of inmates, if necessary, throughout the United States. That’s the hope, that’s the dream, that’s the promise. I’m going to start with you, Chenault. How far are we away from that, in terms of technology?

Chenault: Even in the few years that we’ve been operating, we’ve seen a huge shift in the mindset of the administrators in corrections. A few years ago when said we’d like to bring wired technology and tablets into facilities, some people looked at us like we were crazy, and now we’re finding a really receptive audience that’s aware of the benefits that the technology and tablets can bring for education, for programming, for a number of reasons. Like you mentioned, some statistics have only 20% of those who are incarcerated getting regular access to programming, and that’s really detrimental.

Edovo was started because we were in the Cooke County Jail and saw that people were watching Jerry Springer, and people were watching the Price is Right, and didn’t really have access to that programming. Like you mentioned, there’s many in corrections who want that to be different, but it’s a real challenge to have programming with an in-person teacher for a lot of reasons, being cost, the fact many incarcerated [users 00:06:04] are not at the same level of education and don’t have the same interests. What we see, and what I think many in corrections are seeing is the tablets are helpful because they’re scalable.

If you have someone like Randy’s program curriculum, upload it, and, as you said, millions could access it. You’re also able to meet users at their level. If they’re at the GED level, if they’re at an early literacy rate, if they’re post-secondary, content can be on there that they can access at any level. It’s also really valuable from a data perspective, and from a continuity of care perspective. What our model does and what tablets can do is give administrators in a facility the ability to see how users are learning, what’s popular. We can use that data [inaudible 00:06:58] offer more courses like that.

Our hope, and what we’re working on now, is making sure that parole and probation officers also have access to that data, and the ability to say, “Look, we see that you completed three courses on substance abuse, here are resources for you now that you’re back and out in the community,” or, “We see that you’re halfway through your GED course, you can continue that course from your time incarcerated now that you’re on the outside.” We see that potential, you see that potential, and we are finding a lot of receptive people in the corrections arena, as well.

Leonard: Now, Chenault, are these programs online or are they loaded into the tablets?

Chenault: What we do, and this is different based on the tablet providers, we have wired technology. The way we explain that is, if you think of the internet as a highway system, what we’ve done is created an internet access point that really acts as a tunnel with no on-ramps and no off-ramps. There’s no access to the broader internet, like Google or Facebook. You are only able to connect to Edovo itself. We think it’s really valuable and important that these devices are connected to the internet.

That is how you’re able to have data, that is how you’re able to track your progress, that is how you’ll be able to use your work and your certificate on the outside, and continue to [fill 00:08:23] your educational and vocational programming. It also allows us to upload new content, so the work that we’re doing with Randy, we’re able to upload videos of success stories and add to our curriculum in a way that’s meaningful and important for those who are inside. We have a connectivity, but it’s not just the broader, if that makes sense.

Leonard: It does. It is online, but only through channels that you provide, nothing else?

Chenault: Exactly, through a secure server. Obviously, in corrections, security is an issue, so we use a server through an [ABTN 00:09:01] tunnel, the same type of security that the finance sector uses, that healthcare data uses. We’ve obviously really thought about this, and this is an essential piece of making this work.

Leonard: Chenault, I do want to come back to you in terms of questions of security, because that’s what’s on the mind of every correctional administrator throughout the country. Randy Kearce, let me go over to you for a second. You and I both know, for you, from your personal experience, and me, from my experience within the criminal justice system and the research that I read. I think Chenault is being generous when she’s saying that 20% of inmates are gaining some sort of educational services. The last time I took a look at data, it was closer to 10%. Whether it’s 10% or 20%, the overwhelming majority of people sitting in a correctional facility are not getting any services at all, period. We’re saying that isn’t it better, that if they have access to Randy Kearce and the material that Randy produces, or the material that other people produce, isn’t it better for inmates to be exposed to vocational, educational, substance abuse, decision-making materials on a tablet. We would prefer a instructor, we would prefer a classroom. We’re never going to get that, so if we don’t do it via tablet, it’s not going to get done, am I right or wrong?

Randy: No, you’re absolutely right. We got to go with the times, and times is dictating that technology has to be brought into these facilities because it just makes sense financially for institutions to implement these type of technology, because you get more bang for the buck. More people will be able to use it, more people will be exposed to the materials, and it just makes sense because if you’re trying to prepare someone to come out into society and function on a level of being able to take care of themselves, you have to prepare them and give them the tools and the resources to help prepare them. The thing we have to look at is, number one, what type of programming will these tablets have? You’re going to have several or more companies come online and say, “Wow, this is a great idea. How can I make money from it?” This is the problem.

I think this is the thing that we have to ask ourselves, is what type of material will we allow inmates to be exposed to. We don’t want an inmate to sit there and be watching videos all day of music videos, or entertainment videos. There should be an allowance for some of it, but the majority of it should be focusing on them being able to properly prepare for getting out, and changing their mindset, and changing their behaviors, and things like that.

Going back to the questions of family and keeping in contact with family, you’re going to have companies that come aboard, and now that there was the decrease in how much phone companies can charge incarcerated individuals to call home, now you’re going to have companies trying to basically monopolize off of these tablets on, “How can we generate money by allowing people to use emails,” or just focusing on how they can stay in contact with their family. Those are the things that we have to watch out for. Those are the things that we have to be prepared for, so it doesn’t become a money-making machine versus an entity that can help people integrate back into society.

Leonard: The companies aren’t going to do it unless there’s profit.

Randy: Excuse me?

Leonard: The companies aren’t going to do it unless there’s a profit motive. Why do it unless there’s a profit motive? I’m just curious. I don’t want to go in there deeply, because I would love to see state government, federal government, come out and pay for these sort of things, but at the moment, they’re not going to do it unless there is a profit.

Randy: One of the things that attracted me to Edovo is that they have a more social model. They don’t focus on profit. I can’t tell you the specifics or how they operate, but it’s not profit-driven. Go ahead.

Leonard: Let me get back to the larger question. Randy, do giving information via tablets in the correctional setting … The correctional setting is loud, it’s ruckus, it’s noisy, it’s not very conducive to a learning environment. You’re sitting in your cell, and your watching programs dealing with substance abuse, or an educational program, or a vocational program, or job hunting. How effective could or would tablets be?

Randy: Very effective because that allows you to go in your cell and tune everything else out around you, that’s going on around you that’s not positive, that’s not productive. You can go in your cell, and you’ll basically have your own teacher. You have your own facilitator teaching you or showing you different programs and taking you, walking you, through these programs. They would be very effective. I guess one of the best-selling items in the commissary would be a radio. Everybody has a radio in the prison because that allows you to escape.

These tablets would definitely be a tool to keep people focused on the journey ahead, and not what’s going on negatively around them. When you factor in the privilege part, as well … Tablets are a privilege, they’re not mandatory. People are going to be on their best behavior to have access to these tablets. You’re going to cut down in a lot of areas when it comes to discipline, when it just unfocused behaviors going on around you, because everybody’s going to want to keep their standings to be able to use those tablets. Trust me on that one there.

Leonard: We’re halfway through the program. Let me re-introduce both of you for a second before we get on to the rest of the program. Chenault Taylor, Director of Public Relations for Edovo, E-D-O-V-O, www.Edovo.com, and Randy Kearce, my Facebook friend and a very nice man, re-entry consultant, www.ReentryStrategies.com. He’s produced a video and a slew of materials including a book, but he didn’t want me to promote the book. He wanted me to promote the video, Beyond Prison Probation and Parole. I appreciate both of you being on the program with us today. All right, for the second half of the program, Randy, I’m just going to be a bit more of a devil’s advocate before going back to Chenault on the security question. You’re not going to be able to teach a person to lay bricks, you’re not going to be able to teach a person to be an electrician via a tablet, you’re not going to be able to teach a person how to read via a tablet. These are things that almost require classroom instruction, do they not, or am I wrong?

Randy: I have to disagree with you.

Leonard: Go ahead.

Randy: I have to disagree with you vehemently because a lot of things that I’ve learned in the last two or three years, I’ve learned on YouTube. Video is very great way to teach people because a lot of people can learn by looking and being able to follow the instructions of … Like Chenault said, literacy is a big problem in prison, and everybody’s not reading and comprehending on the same level, so what people can see, they’re more apt to want to be able to follow those instructions. Everything and anything that you want to learn is on YouTube, so this is just giving people a better or more opportunity to learn in a different kind of way. We’re living in a video society, we’re living in a technology that … We have to incorporate instructive learning via instructors that will be able to give them great courses where they can be able to learn in that way. Video’s the best and great way to help these guys prepare for getting out.

Leonard: Chenault, the security question that I alluded to before … Every correctional administrator in the country is saying, “Leonard, I get it. I think tablets would be nice. I think having online access would even be nice, but how do you do that and protect public safety at the same time? Anything that we bring in via the internet is going to be abused, and in fact, a lot of prisons don’t have any internet connection at all, simply for security reasons.” Do you want to comment on that?

Chenault: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve seen a couple people … It’s not a couple people, many facilities that, fortunately, are addressing that security issue head-on. What we’ve done in a lot of facilities is we do need to come in and bring in that connectivity to a facility. As I mentioned earlier, the way we operate, and I think that the way that … There really is the potential to have connectivity and access to wonderful resources … Is that you can only access Edovo. You have a tunnel vision of internet that can only access Edovo. There’s also the ability to access communications in certain tablets, depending on the facility, and depending on their provider.

What we’ve seen really is that this hasn’t been the issue that people were afraid it would be in the facilities that we’re operating in. What we’ve seen is that all of the content that we’re putting onto these tablets is that it’s both by us and by the administration in these facilities. They have final say on everything. We’re not giving access to Google and Facebook. What we think instead is that having access to technology is really valuable. As Randy said, and we actually spoke a couple weeks ago, he learned about the internet by reading about it from the newspaper. When he was released from the facility, he’d never used the internet, he’d never seen a tablet, he’d never used a cell phone, like an iPhone.

It’s crucial to have that technological literacy. Technology’s only going to become more important in our communities, and [you see that 00:18:59] … I’m sure every one of us every day uses technology in a massive way. This really hasn’t been the security issue that I think a lot of people expect, because we’ve done a lot of diligent work to make sure that we’re using the security mechanisms that the finance sector does, that the healthcare sector does. We’re using our own servers, as well. I understand the concern, but I would encourage anyone who’s thinking about bringing tablets into the facility go visit one of our facilities, and talk to the administrators there. This is something that we’ve figured out.

Randy: Let me add to that little piece.

Leonard: Go ahead, Randy.

Randy: In any prison environment, you’re going to have the guy that is going to try to hack the system. That’s just going to be, but what these tablet providers have to do is just stay diligent and be prepared for those who will try to connect to the internet, find some type of backdoor, whatever the case may be, and if it happens, how to learn from that, to make it even stronger and better. Listen, some of the best organizations or people get hacked. You got financial, banks get hacked. Everybody gets hacked, so what we have to do is learn from those experiences to make it better so that the masses will be able to enjoy and be able to benefit from them. That’s the reality right there.

Leonard: All right, I’m going to take both of you past your comfort levels, and it’s not what Edovo is currently doing, it’s not what Randy Kearce is currently doing, but this whole concept of using tablets as a way of communicating with mom and dad at home … Everybody that I’ve talked to at my organization today, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, when I was telling them about the phone call and the interview this afternoon, they simply said, “Okay, we are all for pro-social contact, but how do you keep the nefarious person off the line?” Whether it’s an email back and forth, which requires pure internet access, or whether it’s a phone call, or whether it’s a video chat, this is a way, theoretically, of constantly having pro-social contacts, even doing job interviews in the community over a tablet, but how do you do that in such a way is to make sure that public safety is not jeopardized and that the right person is on the phone, not the wrong person. I know this is taking us way beyond the boundaries of what we talked about, but Chenault, do you have any sense as to that?

Chenault: Sure. What I would say is that video visitation, and phone calls, and emails, are already occurring in facilities, not all facilities, but in many. The same security protocols and the same monitoring that occurs currently could easily be adapted to communication on tablets. As we’ve seen in the research, some of the most valuable things you can do while incarcerated to ensure successful re-entry are to have access to meaningful, high-quality programming, and to have access to communication with the outside world. We are 100% in agreement with [inaudible 00:22:18] that that’s valuable. I think using security protocols that are in existence, and adapting those to the tablet is not a huge leap. Some of these facilities are already utilizing these forms of communication, and tablets would allow greater access to that.

Leonard: Go ahead, Randy.

Randy: When I was incarcerated, we only had phone calls, but, number one, you had to get an approved phone call list, you had to get approved people. They had to be approved for you to be able to call that certain number. You didn’t just have an opportunity to pick up the phone and call numbers randomly, that’s number one. Number two, you had someone who monitored most of the calls, all of the calls, going in and out of the prison, at any given time. When someone in the administrative felt that the conversation was suspect, or wasn’t going according to the policy of the prison, and there was some type of [thread 00:23:15], or whatever the case may be, they shut it down, they shut you down. Your phone call privileges could be taken, they could be even monitored even more, scrutinized. Those type of security process can be applied to the tablets easy, and I think it would probably be easier because you got a guy sitting there watching, and he can gauge whether or not this conversation is going the way it’s supposed to, and there’s any type of problem, so I don’t see that being a problem. I don’t really see that as being a problem.

Leonard: Both of you alluded to Randy’s lack of technology-savvy when he was in prison, and Randy learned about all of this a little bit in prison, but mostly when he came out. The average inmate is not technologically-savvy. The average inmate has never picked up a tablet in their lives. The average inmate may know about Facebook, may know about the computer, but the tablet technology would be foreign to them. How comfortable are they going to be with this tablet, Randy, and how amenable are they going to be to pick up quickly on this new technology?

Randy: The first thing inmates have a lot of is time, and they’re always looking for something to occupy their time. The tablet will give them an opportunity to fill the void of time, that’s number one. That’s why it’s important to have the necessary resources and tools on the tablets, so when they’re trying to just pass time, that they’re not just passing time like they would do in a day room just watching TV, frivolously doing nothing. You have a huge opportunity to provide them with the necessary tools, and programs, and resources, that as they’re trying to kill time, that they’re learning at the same time. That’s most important right there.

Leonard: Chenault, how many correctional facilities is Edovo involved in now?

Randy: Yeah, we’re operating all across the country, and we have over … We’re launching a couple in the next month. We have around a thousand tablets in the market right now, and we’re working on increasing that number. Just to piggyback off of what Randy said, when we come into a facility, we train people, we train the correction officers, we train the administrators, we also interact with the incarcerated users to make sure that they’re comfortable. This really is something that we put a lot of time and thought into, and it’s a user-friendly interface. As Randy said, this is a two-in-one benefit. You’re both getting access to educational programming, and you’re learning how to interact positively with technology at the same time.

Leonard: Do either one of you envision the day that I spoke about at the beginning of the program, where you have a person at a central location providing GED instruction to literally tens of thousands of inmates at the same time? It’s exactly what colleges are doing now, in terms of long-distance learning and virtual learning. It’s really no different from what many colleges are doing now. Many colleges are doing it live. When I taught for the University of Maryland, and when I taught an online course, it wasn’t live, but a lot of colleges are going to the live format, which I really welcome. Any vision of doing a live format for prison inmates throughout the country?

Chenault: I think that’s a great idea. We’re already utilizing open-educational resources, like you spoke about. I definitely envision the day when we [see 00:27:01] tablets in a number of facilities that are reaching many of those who are incarcerated. Something to add there is that … You asked Randy about headphones, and if this is a good learning environment. What we see is, we come in to a facility, and officers and administrators are skeptical of the value of a tablet at times, but within three to five minutes, the facility is quiet, and there’s real engagement going on. You see decreased instances of violence, and officers and administrators really bought into this, because it’s win/win. I’m really optimistic, and I’m hopeful also that in programs that already have teachers and educational programming, that we can be a supplement to that learning, as homework, or as documentaries, or as extra [inaudible 00:27:55] or real-time videos. That’s something that we see, as well, so absolutely.

Leonard: I’ve been in and out of prisons hundreds of times, Randy, and they’re noisy, they’re raucous. It’s really a chaotic experience. The vision that I have is walking into a prison and seeing eight hundred inmates walking around with tablets and earphones, and it’s quiet, and they get a wide array of educational programming that will keep them content and satisfied throughout the course of the day. Is that your vision?

Randy: That’s my vision, and we’re heading in that direction. It might take a while to get everybody [staying 00:28:33] on-board and seeing that vision, but that’s where we’re headed. Re-entry, it’s a big issue that we have to conquer, and that’s pretty much bringing technology into the [fore 00:28:46] will help that. I just want to say that I envision a day that one day my programs and what I’m doing, and maybe even me, will be like you said, beamed into prisons all across the country, and I’m giving that course, I’m giving those instructions to audience. I think we’re a little far from that, but we’re heading that direction. It just makes sense. It just makes sense, because when it comes to financially, having the ability to do that, it’s going to be more cost-effective to use technology to give people a better opportunity than the old traditional ways. You can pay someone $30, $40 thousand dollars a year to [crosstalk 00:29:27] …

Leonard: Got to wrap-up quickly, Randy. Go ahead.

Randy: Yeah, I see us going in that direction. Technology is here to stay, and it’s making its way into the prisons. It’s just going to be more beneficial as we go forward.

Leonard: Our guests today, Chenault Taylor, Director of Public Relations for Edovo … That is www.Edovo.com. Randy Kearce is also by our microphones. Once again, re-entry consultant, www.ReentryStrategies.com … Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We want everybody to have yourselves a very pleasant day.

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