Tablet project enhances communications for incarcerated population

A tablet with a rubberized case.
Tablets will be phased in at CDCR institutions throughout the state.

CDCR has embarked on an innovative program to help remove barriers for those in our care. Reduced and free telephone calls, combined with access to tablets statewide, will give incarcerated people the ability to communicate with family, access rehabilitative information and learn new technology. All these steps aim to better prepare them for reentry into the community.

Jails and prisons across the US are seeing the benefits of utilizing electronic devices as they provide incarcerated individuals access to important departmental content, rehabilitative programs, and positive leisure-time activities, such as knowledge-based games and books. These devices also allow these activities to be tracked and monitored for safety and security.

It is expected that tablets will be distributed on a phased basis beginning in mid-May 2021. The tablets will first be provided to people incarcerated at Valley State Prison (VSP) in Chowchilla, which is implementing California’s first Youth Offender Rehabilitative Community (YORC). The YORC initiative aims to assist people who began their incarceration under the age of 25 by establishing an environment more akin to a college campus than a correctional institution, with increased access to educational, therapeutic and vocational opportunities. In addition to VSP, YORCs are designed to cluster such individuals together at select adult institutions to encourage positive programming and provide impactful programming targeted to their specific needs, including peer mentoring and cognitive behavioral interventions.

To discuss the project, Inside CDCR caught up with Wayne Babby, Chief of CDCR’s Enterprise Information Services (EIS), Offender and Family Solutions, and Sylvia Dumalig, EIS Information Technology Manager, EIS Offender and Family Solutions.

Visit to learn more about the tablets and phone rates.

What is the purpose of the tablet project?
The tablet project is key to getting safe, secure technology into the hands of CDCR’s incarcerated citizens to access CDCR information, rehabilitative program materials, and be able to communicate with their friends, families and loved ones. Making all of these services available will not only teach them to use technology, but will be a key supplement to making in-person programming more effective, increase communication with their outside supporters and contribute to them not coming back to prison or jail.

Dumalig: The primary focus of this project was communications. The tablet is a means to allow not only that communication, but also provides the foundation to deliver so much more. This technology can provide the tools to make every incarcerated person successful upon release.

What was involved from vision to implementation?
: The initial step was to envision what communications and services would benefit our incarcerated citizen population the most. The pilot launched in 2018 was done to evaluate tablet technology in CDCR institutions by testing tablets in five locations. As we learned how effective the tablets were in the area of communication, along with the parts of the technology and user experience that needed to be improved upon, we used the information to form the solicitation proposal for the statewide communications/technology contract. Now that the procurement is complete, we can focus on how to best implement the communication and tablet technology to deliver the most benefit to our CDCR population.

What challenges did you face?
: The biggest challenge was to define the scope of this procurement and what the new contract would deliver. There has been a tendency nationwide in this area to try to make the scope of these contracts too large and to include services not related to communication and tablet technology. By refining the scope, we were able to achieve the lowest possible rates and gain the largest advances in tablet technology for our CDCR incarcerated citizen population. The next biggest challenge was to keep the scope and resist the pressures to expand the scope to unrelated areas.

Dumalig: Like Wayne said, the biggest challenge was striking the right balance of technological advancement and proper safety and security while still ensuring we can provide worthwhile and beneficial services to the Department, the incarcerated and their families and friends.

In addition to tablets, this contract greatly reduced phone rates across the board. Why was that a priority?
: The reduction of rates for our incarcerated citizens, their families, friends and loved ones was the top priority for this effort. The direct translation of communication rates to the cost to our CDCR population and the friends, families and loved ones that support them drove our team to identify a scope that achieved the massive rate reduction and was still able to provide critical technology to increase communication in the form of calling, and electronic communication.

Dumalig: The pilot gave us the opportunity to not only test the technology on a small scale, but also to obtain feedback from the actual users of the services. We met with and received feedback from staff, Inmate Advisory Councils, Inmate Family Councils and from families and friends. Having the understanding of their priorities reinforced the importance of providing additional means of communication while striving to provide the best rates for those services.

Why is this project important to you personally?
: I believe California needs to improve the rate its previously incarcerated population comes back to prison and jail. One of the most important factors in reducing recidivism is the communication an incarcerated citizen has with their family, friends and loved ones. The second is the programming they receive while being incarcerated. We had an opportunity to move both of these key efforts forward in one procurement, which is rare in the area of public safety. The increase in the quality of life by staying out of the incarceration life cycle along with the potential savings to the citizens of California makes this one of the most important efforts I have been a part of in my 30-plus years of State civil service.

Dumalig: My team and I have been working on this project for about three years. When we first started discussing that we wanted to provide tablets to allow incarcerated people to send and receive emails, some people probably thought we were crazy. Fast forward to today and realizing the impacts that COVID-19 has had on all of our lives, I think we all understand a little more how important it is to hear from and see (even virtually) our own family and friends. At the end of the day, we have to remember that a majority of those incarcerated will one day be our neighbors. I truly believe this is a great opportunity for our incarcerated men and women to not only be able to keep in contact with their families, but also to be able to become familiar with various technologies to better prepare them for going home.