Prisons are not exactly the first place you think of when talking about gadgets and gizmos, but that doesn’t mean inmates of correctional facilities have to languish without access to modern technology that might help them in their quest for education and in the process of their rehabilitation. That very thought seems to have been the driving force behind the work of at least one man who is trying to re-introduce prisoners to the simple joys of using Android tablets to read e-books, prepare for upcoming court cases, or communicate with family members. The man behind the project happens to be the founder and CEO of APDS (American Prison Data Systems), Mr. Christopher Grewe.
The tablet Mr. Grewe and his team is distributing among inmates of the Rikers Island prison in the U.S. is a custom-built version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, which comes in a locked-down mode thanks to a special SDK from AirWatch that provides access to only educational and vocational apps from the Play Store. The device also comes with a secure web-browser that allows access to only a select bunch of whitelisted websites. According to Mr. Grewe, “We provide technology solutions that provide better outcomes for the incarcerated. Prisons don’t need to be dangerous places. They can be constructive”. Asked about his motivation for the project, Mr. Grewe spoke about the psychological principle called the “gifting effect”, which predisposes those who receive unconditional gifts to give back to society themselves.
The tablets connect to Verizon’s LTE network instead of Wi-Fi so that the prison system can avoid all the infrastructural issues that need to be addressed while setting up large-scale Wi-Fi facilities. As for the precautions that obviously need to be taken while working with hardened criminals, Mr. Grewe said that apart from the software lockdown preventing users from accessing undesirable apps and websites, the device itself comes enclosed in a specially-made physical enclosure for added safety. The usage is also monitored remotely and the devices can be turned off any time a warden issues an SOS for one reason or another. Mr. Grew also claims that even after “more than three million personnel hours” of the tabs being used by prison inmates in the country, not one digital safety issue has cropped up because of the devices and “no one’s ever gotten to a website they weren’t supposed to”.