Inmates getting tablet devices in Charlotte County Jail

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. -- A new program in Charlotte County is helping inmates connect with their family and friends, but not without controversy. The sheriff's office has unveiled plans to introduce tablets to convicts. 

But the move is being met with a lot of questions, and even a few concerns.

Officials tell Fox 4 that the tablets won’t just benefit inmates, but make everything run more smoothly at the jail, too.

“To be able to have this, just for your family or your husband to say everything's okay, how was your day, just to have that is reassuring,” says Nicole Hoffenkamp, one of the more than 600 inmates at the Charlotte County Jail using the 'inmate communication devices’.

Similar to smart tablets, they let inmates contact their friends and family by using a messaging app monitored by jail staff.

“I talk to my boyfriend a lot on here,” says Hoffenkamp.

The messaging app charges Nicole credits.  She gets two free credits a week. Her boyfriend can buy more for 50 cents each.  Sending a message will cost 1 credit; for photos its 2.

So what will these tablets cost tax payers?

“We do not pay a dime.”  Capt. Melissa Turney says Smart Communications Tablets, the company behind the devices, provides them for free and makes money off the credits purchased.

“They should be able to interact and keep contact with their family.”

Some in the community are on board with the program, but others are calling it a luxury that doesn’t belong in a jail. 

“They should not be allowed to do all the things they did before, because they've done something bad and they've got to pay the price."

When Fox 4 brought this concern to Capt. Turney, she says the messaging app is only part of what the tablets do. The tablet is locked, meaning inmates aren't able to surf the web.  But it does allow them easier, virtual access to legal materials and classes, something the jail provides by law anyway.

“This is actually going to help make it more efficient for us as a sheriffs office.  So it's not just about the inmate population. it's about what's making things a little more secure, a little more safe for us."

Deputies say the tablets make mail a lot more secure, because they won’t have to check written mail for drugs or harmful substances anymore.  Soon, the way mail is delivered will be changed all together.
 

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