TWIN FALLS • Angry Birds behind bars?
Twin Falls County Jail inmates have access to games, like the popular bird-slinging game, and other features thanks to new tablet computers in minimum and medium security cellblocks.
The tablets, which run on the Android operating system, were provided by Telmate, a company that provides phone services for jails and correctional facilities in 40 states. The tablets are now a permanent fixture after the facility for the last few months took part in Telmate’s beta test.
The tablets are fairly regulated, said Capt. Doug Hughes, Twin Falls County jail administrator. Inmates have access to some news and sports websites, but no social networks, such as Facebook. They also can’t make comments on websites, he said.
“They can click the link and it says ‘access denied,’” Hughes said.
There’s no traditional email, but inmates can send and receive messages from approved contacts on their Telmate account. Hughes said jail deputies can read all the messages and certain words are flagged to bring potential criminal behavior to their attention. Dangerous inmates don’t get access to the tablets, he said, only inmates who are classified to be minimum or medium security.
A medium-security inmate might be someone with a low-level felony, like forgery, Hughes said. A minimum-security inmate might have a driving under the influence charge with no previous criminal record, he said.
“You misbehave, you start losing privileges,” Hughes said.
“Not one cent” of taxpayer money was spent on the tablets, Twin Falls County Sheriff Tom Carter said.
Telmate doesn’t charge for the equipment, and inmates pay to use the tablets out of their own phone call funds. It costs a few cents per minute, said Hughes, who didn’t know the exact cost to inmates.
The money inmates spend on the service goes to Telmate to pay for the services, Hughes said.
Hughes said he met with Telmate staff last week and discussed some tweaks to be made on the security of the devices.
“We’re tightening down access to websites,” he said.
Hughes and Carter say they’re looking forward to other features that the tablets will do in the future, including assisting with educational programs and GED testing. Families of an inmate might soon be able to place a video call straight to the tablet from their home. This will be especially beneficial to inmates who have family out of state or who have disabled family members who can’t make it into the jail, Carter said.
Hughes said he understands some will criticize the program as being soft on inmates who are supposedly being punished.
“Jail is the punishment,” Hughes said. “We’re not here to punish them.”
The punishment is being taken away from society, he said.
It’s good to stay tied to the community and family even when incarcerated, Hughes said.
“So they don’t become a warehoused, institutionalized person,” he said.
Some people are simply criminals who will constantly be in and out of prisons and jails, Carter said, but that’s not most inmates.
“There are a lot of people who have done something dumb and they’re paying for it,” he said.
One of the main goals of jail is to ensure that inmates go back into society well adjusted.
“We want to provide avenues to stay in touch with society,” Hughes said.