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Inmates’ costs for tablet use OK’d

October 7, 2017 GMT

Inmates at the Allen County Jail have been issued electronic tablets for free, but depending on how they use them, it’ll cost them or their generous relatives or friends a pretty penny.

And the jail’s commissary fund stands to profit from tablet use : from commissions ranging from 10 percent to 40 percent of monthly generated revenues.

Those details were revealed Friday morning as the Allen County commissioners considered a resolution on an existing tablet program announced last week.

The three commissioners passed the resolution allowing 800 tablets unanimously after questioning a jail and a sheriff’s department official about how tablets would be regulated and what benefits they would provide.

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Officials said experience elsewhere has found a reduction of inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-corrections officer assaults.

Tablets mean inmates can have more contact with loved ones and don’t feel cut off from the world, leading to better behavior, officials said.

Nonetheless, inmates won’t have internet access, and those outside the jail must request to be added as a contact for inmates to send them text messages or phone calls.

Incoming and outgoing messages will be monitored, and there is a 10-minute time delay on delivery, officials said. They said they also can apply “watchwords” to messages to screen out inappropriate or illegal content and messages are archived for use in investigations.

The Bible and religious studies and legal documents will be supplied free on the tablets in compliance with the law, officials said. Health requests and possibly commissary requests also will be made for free through the tablet, cutting down staff requests, officials added.

But other services, including phone calls, text messaging and entertainment functions, including books, music, games, radio, TV audio and movies must be paid for.

Costs include 25 cents for up to 2,000-character texts, 5.99 for games, 19.99 for audio books, 6.00 for TV audio. Fourteen- and seven-day subscriptions to services are somewhat less.

Movies are 4.99 for a 24-hour rental. If a tablet needs replacing for reasons other than an “inmate willful act,” that costs $249.

The agreement provides a 10 percent commission based on average monthly revenue per tablet of 20 but nothing below that threshold. Commissions increase by 5 percent at different use levels up to 40 percent for more than a $70 monthly average.

If the average monthly use of the 800 tablets according to stipulations in the agreement is between 25, the jail fund could get 22,400 a month for average usage over $70.

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The agreement makes Public Communications Services Inc., of Reston, Virginia, the exclusive provider, gives that company right of first refusal and restricts its liability.

Removing access to tablets is not contemplated as a disciplinary measure, officials said. However, removing access to some applications might be used as discipline, and if a tablet is ruined from misconduct, the inmate will not get another one, officials said.

Officials said they also are contemplating using tablets eventually to cut down on in-person visits.

In other business, commissioners:

• Unanimously approved rezoning from agriculture to single-family residential of a 77.8-acre Allen County portion of a planned 301-home housing development on the 117-acre grounds of Willow Ridge Golf Course near Huntertown.

• Accepted completion of the Pleasant Center Road project east of Bluffton Road (near the Walmart milk processing plant) at a cost of 36,734.

• Agreed to an income survey for the unincorporated municipality of Yoder. The survey is needed for funding a project to improve drainage, commissioners were told.

rsalter@jg.net