CDCR has embarked on an innovative project to offer reduced and free telephone phone calls and tablet access to 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 are seeing the benefits of using electronic devices to provide incarcerated individuals access to rehabilitative information.
The information includes important departmental content, rehabilitative programs, and positive leisure-time activities, such as knowledge-based games and books.
The 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 youth offender initiative assists people who began their incarceration under the age of 25. This is done by establishing an environment more akin to a college campus than a correctional institution, increasing access to educational, therapeutic and vocational opportunities.
In addition to VSP, YORCs are designed to cluster such individuals together at select adult institutions. This is meant to encourage positive programming while providing impactful programming targeted to their specific needs. This can include peer mentoring and cognitive behavioral interventions.
To discuss the project, Inside CDCR caught up with two people instrumental to making it happen.
Inside CDCR spoke 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 https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/family-resources/gtl-tablets/ to learn more about the tablets and phone rates.
Discussing the value of the tablet project
What is the purpose of the tablet project?
Babby: 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?
Babby: 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, we used the information to form the solicitation proposal for the statewide communications/technology contract. With the procurement complete, we can focus on implementing the communication and tablet technology to deliver the most benefit.
What challenges did you face?
Babby: 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?
Babby: 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?
Babby: 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 the incarcerated citizen has with family and friends. The second is the programming they receive while being incarcerated. We had an opportunity to move both efforts forward in one procurement, which is rare in public safety. Increasing the quality of life by staying out of the incarceration life cycle, along with the potential savings to California taxpayers, 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 tablets for incarcerated people to send and receive emails, some probably thought we were crazy. Fast forward to today and realizing the impacts of COVID-19, 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 a majority of those incarcerated will one day be our neighbors. This helps our incarcerated population keep in contact with their families. Also it helps them become familiar with technologies to prepare them for reentry.