Program gives inmates tablets to help re-integrate into society

DRAPER, Utah - A new pilot program is helping Utah inmates prepare for re-entry into society.

The tech-assisted, focused re-entry program has 225 new tablets. Each cost $500, and come pre-loaded with educational materials, individualized treatment plans, housing information, employment options and more. The network they use is monitored, with no access to WiFi. All communication is monitored.

Inmate Harley Bickford has been in prison since September 2016. He is preparing for his February release date with one of the tablets.

“We’re able to look at like things we’re gonna need like clothes, like transportation," Bickford said. "Things that we need to do to succeed when we get out.”

Director of Adult Probation and Parole Jim Hudspeth said immediate feedback from offenders has been amazing.

"When we meet with them, we're having more meaningful conversations with that offender and helping them address the issues that truly are affecting them."

For some inmates who may have been inside the prison for decades, the world outside the walls is a totally different place, especially in terms of technology. They hope preparation on these tablets help with the learning curve.

“Reality sinks in, and it’s more difficult than they anticipated, and so obviously that leads them back to some of that criminogenic thinking, and they start hanging out with friends they shouldn’t hang out with and thinking things that maybe they should do and shouldn’t do," said Assistant Regional Administrator Eric Barker.

While other states have similar proactive programs, Utah will be the first to allow inmates to take tablets with them during their transitional period into society. Inmates will keep the tablets with them as they work with their caseworkers, and start their jobs. All of the information saved on their tablets, like medical information, can then be transferred to a phone, once they purchase one. At that point, they will return the tablet.

Bickford said he enjoys the self-help materials on his tablet, including books and TED talks. Most importantly, he has the ability to look for a job so he can get right on his feet when he leaves in February.

"When you come to prison you get a lot of disconnect from society. You know, I think the public looks at it like we’re bad people or we’ve done bad things. I think a lot of us are just people that made some mistakes. For us to be able to reach out, for us to be able to do more positive things, to not be disconnected from our families and society, and to look at things in a different like I think is going to be a positive thing. It’s gonna have overall gains," he said.

More information on the program can be found at corrections.utah.gov