Tiny Pink Tablets Could Seriously Change America’s Prison System Forever

It’s all about feeling connected

Image via JPay

It’s that time of year again. So far this October, you’ve likely seen people flaunting pink bracelets, pins, coffee mugs, shirts, shoes, and lip balm—even buckets of fried chicken—all in the name of breast cancer awareness. After all, it is national Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is why one company decided to provide a useful pink product to a population of people who rarely get to participate: the incarcerated.

In a partnership with the American Cancer Society, inmate services company JPay produced limited edition pink tablets and made them available for inmates to purchase in North Dakota, Ohio, and Washington prisons, along with the North Lake facility in Michigan. For every tablet purchased, JPay, one of a handful of tablets available to inmates, plans to plans to donate $10 to the American Cancer Society, which funds research, patient services, early detection, treatment, and education. Other companies like Securus and GTL produce prison tablet technology as well.

Within a week of being released, the pink tablets sold out, surprising manufacturers and prison wardens alike. JPay CEO Errol Feldman attributes the tablet’s unprecedented popularity to a prison-wide desire to volunteer, saying in a press release, “For inmates, the pink-colored tablet and cases are tangible representations of their passion for the cause, something they own and use every day, not just a simple receipt from a monetary donation. It means something more.”

Image via BlogQpot

Dig a little deeper, though, and it seems inmates have an urgent desire to be technologically savvy. With the tablets, inmates can play games, download music, and send emails to their friends and family. While the tablets aren’t connected to the internet and can only be operated for 15 minutes at a time, the devices provide inmates a chance to feel normal in this increasingly tech-centric world. For Walter Olsen, who’s currently serving a four-year sentence at the North Dakota State Penitentiary, being able to play games and pass the time is an added benefit that keeps him from losing sight of the end goal: reintegrating into society.

Troy Schulz, the deputy warden at the North Dakota State Penitentiary, would agree that incorporating technology into the prison system is a necessity for the basic reason that it helps inmates transition more seamlessly into the real world upon release. On his decision to provide pink tablets, he says, “I was able to address two goals of mine at once. One, by introducing more advanced technology into the facility, and the other by representing the department well in the community by the offenders being able to donate and give something back to society.”

For Olsen, supporting breast cancer research is a no brainer, particularly since his cousin was diagnosed with the disease a couple years ago, as was his step-grandmother. Ultimately, though, he says this purchase has to do with maintaining a connection with the outside world. At a cost of $74.99 for the mini tablets and $119.99 for the pink JP5s seven inch tablets, inmates use their own money to buy the devices, which Schulz says is a privilege they earn. According to Schulz, about 60 to 70 percent of the inmates at his facility currently own a tablet, and most use money earned from their jobs within the prison to pay for it, although friends and family can send money as well.

Giving inmates more opportunities to give back to the community goes hand in hand with providing crucial skills to succeed outside of prison. Schulz says a big part of his job is finding a balance between maintaining security and making prison as similar to normal life as possible. “Prison is the restriction of liberties, not the loss of rights,” he says, adding that his “responsibility is to ensure we put people in the best position to succeed when they do get out, while maintaining a safe environment for them to be rehabilitated.” Particularly for inmates who have been in prison for decades, it’s a daunting task for wardens like Schulz to ensure offenders are able to apply to jobs and use current technology as it rapidly adapts.

Countless studies have shown that inmates who stay connected with loved ones have lower rates of recidivism. In Olsen’s case and in the cases of many other fellow inmates, something as simple as a computer game can improve their overall outlook. “As far as getting out, I’ve got to go home and take care of my kids and get back into the routine of everyday life,” he says, “It’s stressful at times, but I’ve got a lot of family support to help me out.” With more programs like JPay’s that are designed to make prisons more positive environments and increase connectivity to the outside world, we can only expect conditions to improve in every aspect of society.

via Douglas Muth / Flickr

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