Improving Prisoners’ Digital Literacy to Lower Recidivism

By Morteza SahebkarAugust 17, 2021

Improving Prisoners’ Digital Literacy to Lower Recidivism

As our world becomes more and more connected through technology, digital literacy is essential for almost every aspect of life — and that doesn’t change for people who have been incarcerated. Unfortunately, prisoners have been cut off from much of the technology that is ubiquitous in the rest of the world.

Technology evolves at increasingly rapid rates, and the pandemic proved just how quickly it can change to meet new demands. That means people who have been incarcerated for years are missing out on the digital context the rest of the world is used to. The world now requires digital skills such as navigating popular applications, working with platforms, understanding social media’s impact, and connecting with smart devices. It’s a lot to catch up on.

In addition to the stigma of being incarcerated, people who are released and enter the job market have a steep learning curve ahead. Digital literacy is required to perform nearly every function within modern society, but especially the activities that are key to prisoner reentry into the outside world. From getting a driver’s license to writing a resume, confidently navigating an online sphere is necessary.

Why Digital Literacy Matters to Prisons

Experts agree that basic computer skills can have a big impact on prisoners, from reducing recidivism rates to increasing self-reliance. Technology is a key component to helping inmates cope and find stability after their release. So how can prisons help increase digital literacy — all without compromising safety or spending precious resources?

There’s certainly a large amount of technology being developed for and deployed in prisons. But a lot of the technology is used by the prison staff and not the prisoners themselves. Thankfully, some technology is being designed and utilized to successfully rehabilitate prisoners while they’re incarcerated. These devices and systems include HomeWAV’s virtual visitation system, audiobooks, computers, and inmate tablets in particular.

According to RAND, every dollar spent on education programs for prisoners saved about four or five dollars in re-incarceration costs. Not only does increasing the presence of usable technology help prisoners maintain and develop digital skills, but it can also help with education and improving mental health for inmates. For example, a prisoner who has trouble reading in a traditional format could benefit greatly from listening to an audiobook. Therefore, inmate tablets and audio devices are worthwhile tools that can increase engagement in education and mental health, addiction, and religious programs. This small and reasonable accommodation can make a huge difference in a prisoner’s trajectory.

In Pima County, Arizona, the prison system gave inmates access to tablets with electronic messaging. According to Sean Stewart, a recently retired corrections captain for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, the tablet program reduced suicide attempts and ideation by 66%. Assaults on staff members declined by 60%, and inmate-on-inmate assaults decreased by 40%.

But it’s not just prisoners who benefit from this technology. Before the tablets, the prison would receive thousands of pieces of mail every day, and it took three staff members to sort through it all. When prisoners had access to electronic messaging and inmate video calls to communicate with loved ones and support systems, there was no longer a significant need for staff to spend time sorting mail.

Bringing Inmate Tablets Into Prisons

The benefits speak for themselves, but how can a prison implement a tablet program while maintaining safety standards and budget lines? The key is a solid partnership.

Find partners who you can trust to be transparent. Ask questions about the product, the safety measures, and the impact. Be sure you understand the contract. If you have any hesitations or confusion, ask potential partners to explain so you can feel comfortable.

The cost will vary by facility, but some prisons have designated items in the budget for “extras,” or educational assets such as tablets. Those extras can be paid for by the inmate, or facilities can offer trial periods for the tablet services with a fee after the trial ends. These fees can be collected through online commissary accounts. Often, basic resources such as facility rules and schedules will be offered for free.

Technology like tablets can be empowering for both prisoners and facilities. After all, finding stable employment, community resources, and establishing connections with a support system are the keys to reducing recidivism rates. In the 21st century, what do all of these activities depend on? Digital literacy skills. By offering inmate tablet programs, facilities can reduce recidivism rates and increase their bottom lines. It really is a win-win.

Interested in learning more about how HomeWAV can help you? Reach out to us today by clicking here!