San Francisco County Jail First in Nation to Provide Totally Free Access to Content-Rich Tablet Computers for Incarcerated Population

By Audrey Sawyer

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – A San Francisco Sheriff’s Office program that provides incarcerated individuals in San Francisco with access to computer tablets free of charge is a groundbreaking new model for prisons and jails and could reduce recidivism, bolster crime prevention, and result in imagining a future beyond jail, said Sheriff Paul Miyamoto.

The program differs from other tablet programs in various jails and prisons because the other programs are charging incarcerated individuals fees, whereas the tablet program in San Francisco is free of charge to those residing in county jails, said the Sheriff.

Miyamoto said other jail “free” tablets are usually at a cost to incarcerated individuals, like charges of three cents a minute in order to read an e-book. Private corporations and governments are able to share the profit, and incarcerated families are paying the hefty costs.

Programs, said the County, include access to legal resources, audiobooks, movies, music, and e-books through a collaboration with the San Francisco Public Library. An individual may submit grievances, make commissary orders and medical requests, and view essential legal and reentry resources. 

City Librarian Michael Lambert said of the program, “We know that low literacy and barriers in education contribute to the prison pipeline, and having access to the information and library services can change the trajectory of someone’s life.” 

Philip Pitney, from County Jail #3 said, “If I had taken the parenting class first, before I had kids, I would have been a way better father.”

The demand for tablets emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, when both in-person visiting and programming were suspended. The Mayor’s Office had pledged $500,000 annually from the City’s General Fund.

Nucleus (a company in support of digital education and vocational training programming in jails and prisons) had provided the rollout of tablets by partnering with the San Francisco Public Library, the Mayor’s Office, SF’s Sheriff’s Office, the Financial Justice Project in the Treasurer’s Office, and the San Francisco Jail Justice Coalition. 

The San Francisco Jail Justice Coalition was a key component of the design and implementation of the tablet program, composed of community-based organizations, family members supporting their incarcerated loved ones, and formerly incarcerated individuals themselves.

In 2020, San Francisco passed the “People over Profits” ordinance, meaning the city is unable to make revenue from incarcerated people and their families.

About The Author

Audrey is a senior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science (Comparative Politics emphasis). After graduation, Audrey plans on attending graduate school and is considering becoming a public defender.

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