inmates' education

Alabama Prisons Aim to Add Technology to Further Inmates’ Education

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has recently released a plan aimed to lessen the cost of inmates calling loved ones while behind bars, simultaneously increasing access to educational tools for incarcerated individuals. The state is starting to add tablets and secure wireless network connections to prisons to prepare inmates for reentry back into society, as well as to reduce the rate at which the convicted criminals could reoffend.

According to Bob Horton, a spokesman for the ADOC, the main purpose of the plan is to give inmates access to “educational programming,” while using the Edovo platform.

The newly implemented technology allows inmates to receive educational training by using the tablets in a classroom setting, as well as in their own free time. This curriculum would focus on such topics as adult basic literacy, life skills, general educational development services, and entry-level vocational training. The tablets would not have access to the Internet.

“The tablets would also function as telephones,” Horton said via email. “The tablets would require a secure wireless network inside the facilities which the vendor would provide.”

According to Alabama Local News, if this goes as planned, the ADOC would supply every Alabama prison dorm with approximately 15-20 tablets and a secure wireless network to be used for educational and communication purposes.

“We’ve started some educational initiatives that are really significant,” ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn said during an interview last week.

“We’re in the final request to get educational tablets for our inmates.”

Dunn also added that the ADOC implemented the same educational technology at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in 2015, and was met with much success.

“Effective education can be a key to reducing recidivism, and that’s ultimately the goal. If we can achieve that, we have significantly contributed to public safety,” he said.

When tablets and secure wireless networks were brought to the Tutwiler Prison for Women in a pilot program, the tablets were housed in sturdy cases with shatterproof screen protectors. Inmates logged in, and the device tracked their individual progress.

Alabama Local News noted the content “included academic and vocational courses, as well as programs like substance abuse, anger management, and parenting.”

Inmates were even able to earn credits that allow access to movies, music, and magazines via the devices.

Corrections officials said in a statement that there would be no need for new funding required to purchase the tablets. The ADOC plans to lower calling rates for the inmates, and cover the cost of the new tablets by lowering the department’s commission received from the telephone contract.

According to WYVY-TV, the plan will be included as part of the inmate telephone contract that will be sent out at the end of the year.

Christopher Zoukis, author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons, and the Prison Education Guide, believes that using comprehensive and well-designed technology is another way to ensure that inmates have the opportunity to use their free time constructively.

“They can improve themselves and their futures through technology and other programs, and these systems may also help reduce inmate violence by addressing isolation and boredom,” Zoukis explains.

“Technology also has the potential to be used widely to reach more individuals than ever before; this ultimately will help contribute to a reduction in recidivism, and the creation of stronger communities.”

While education of inmates isn’t necessarily the most popular or glamorous area of edtech, if this project is successful, it could make a significant impact on crime rates and workforce development in Alabama. And if that happens, it could be used as an effective model for progress across the U.S.

Jessica Filippone

Jessica Filippone

Jess is a senior at Emerson College, studying journalism with a primary focus in news management. She is also an anchor and on air personality for 88.9 WERS FM Boston. When she isn't writing or doing her radio thing, you can find her on the beach with a New York Times Best Seller.