How Philadelphia's Prisons Are Embracing Technology

How Philadelphia's Prisons Are Embracing Technology

By Aimee Rawlins /

Tablets and text messages. To the general public, they might seem standard, but for a prison system, they could be revolutionary.

At least that’s what Philadelphia hopes.

The city recently signed contracts with two startups to help educate inmates while in prison and keep them connected once they’re out.

Traditionally, it’s been difficult to implement technology into inmates’ lives. Prisons often don’t have space for a computer lab, and even if they do, they require significant monitoring, since inmates can’t have unrestricted access to the Internet.

Jail Education Solutions is hoping to fix those issues. The Chicago-based startup is rolling out a pilot program in Philadelphia to provide tablets to inmates. They will offer everything from literacy classes and college coursework to vocational training and financial literacy seminars.

“Education is a game changer,” said Brian Hill, founder of Jail Education Solutions. “And the data bears that out.”

He’s right. A 2013 report from RAND found that inmates who received education while in prison were 43% less likely to become repeat offenders.

JES designed tablets specifically for the program, so they’ll only have offerings determined by the prison system.

“If someone took the tablet and tried to use it outside the jail, it would be absolutely worthless,” said Hill.

The pilot program will put more than 100 tablets in the hands of both male and female inmates. The startup received $30,000 from the city to roll it out (a “strong gesture” according to Hill, but it won’t cover the costs). Eventually, they’ll rent the tablets to inmates for $2 a day, which Hill says will allow the company to be self-sustaining.

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