CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Nueces County Sheriff, J.C. Hooper said he hopes new technology will change the environment within the Nueces County jail.
The main facility by the Nueces County Court House and the McKinzie Jail Annex received almost 400 tablets that inmates will be able to access.
The main jail will have around 220 tablets and the McKinzie Jail Annex will receive about 160.
10-20 tablets will be placed in dorms for monitored use and they do not have unlimited access to the internet. Hooper said the department will be in control of the devices and their systems are secure.
Hooper said before he was sheriff, the department tried to bring in the tablets, but it didn't happen.
"Last time around there was misinformation. The misinformation that got out there was that the inmates would be able to surf the internet, maybe find some pornography. They were going to be able to log onto their social media accounts," he said. "And that's not the case at all. This is a totally controlled environment and we control it. Not only do we control it, we monitor it."
Department staff will be able to monitor the tablets in real-time. If users are caught violating in-house rules, sessions can be terminated. If users continuously violate in-house rules they can be banned from the system.
The Tablet's Features
- Education Content - Facilities can opt to allow inmates to use systems which will have access to enriching education content including GED, law library, reentry programs and other facility approved content to help inmates legally get out of jail and hopefully stay out.
- Entertainment Content - If the facility opts for select features the system will offer inmates a variety of entertainment content ranging from music to moves to games. The content is designed to help lower inmate anxiety, anger and boredom.
- Virtual Visits - Inmates could initiate a video visit which they'll have to pay for. Both parties involved have to have the GettingOut app in order to complete a video call. Users must be verified. This feature will be monitored. For this opportunity, tablets will be stationed on a special port for video calls, it cannot be removed, and the images behind the inmate will be blurred for other inmates privacy.
Officer Gary Thurmond also mentioned the tablet could lessen paperwork.
"It will have access to grievance procedures, it will have access to request forms. Any time inmates need to access medical, of course before it was all pen and paper, but now it can be digital," Thurmond said. "You can save the environment for one and it will also have a tracking system that's not easily lost."
Thurmond believes the tablet will be a useful tool that could encourage good behavior.
Working at a jail isn't a walk in the park for correctional officers. Hooper said their inmate demographic has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
Hooper said a majority of non-violent offenders were able to be released on personal recognizance bond, which is when a defendant is released from jail without being required to post any money for his or her bond.
The defendant is essentially released on the basis of his or her promise to appear at their next court date. However, that left behind a saturation of people accused of violent crimes.
"We have more gang-related offenders, we have more violent offenders. It's hard, we have a lot of offenders here, a significant number, who have already been to the state penitentiary and so these are hardened inmates, and our correctional officers are dealing with a different classification of inmates than they were a couple of years ago," Hooper said. "And those inmates, they know the game. And they know how to poke a correction officer just right. And they know how to do some damage to our facility."
Preventing Future Crimes
Hooper said the tech will enhance the jail's capabilities for the future. He said the hand-held devices could be a useful tool to help keep drugs out of the jails. Hooper explained illicit drugs could make its way into the facility with paper, like mail. The department has already invested in scanners to detect chemicals.
"Our goal is to do an even better job in keeping the poison paper out of here. Every piece of mail, except for legal mail, is going to go to a clearing house, another business that scans that mail. And then the mail will be delivered to the inmates on the tablets like a text message or a scanned image of the mail," Hooper said.
Cost of the tablets
The price of each tablet could be several hundred dollars for each unit. However, the devices aren't costing taxpayers or the sheriff's office any money at all. A vendor provided the tablets. It could profit off its business model, which allows inmates to buy pre-approved content on the tablet, like movies.
Most entertainment content is free for inmates who don't have money to spend. However, if an inmate chooses to set up an account and if they have money, they'll be able to take advantage of more features. For example, the video call feature could cost an inmate $0.25 a minute. The maximum amount of time an inmate can spend on the GettingOut video call app is 15 minutes.