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Tablets in Prison: The New Communication Method Behind Bars

We're diving into a topic that's close to our hearts – communication with your loved ones behind bars. We've witnessed firsthand the transformative power of technology, especially with tablets, in keeping families connected. However, we want to shed some light on the importance of striking a balance and not overlooking the value of physical pictures in prison.

Tablets in use at a Michigan county jail. Photo: Andrew Jowell, Times Herald.

There's no doubt that tablets in prison help make communication smoother and more accessible. The phone call, video visit, and text features help those in prison stay connected to the outside world. Movies, TV shows, and music on tablets have opened up avenues for additional entertainment for incarcerated individuals. But they're not a one-size-fits-all solution. Tablets are great... until they're not. We've heard stories from friends and family about photos getting stuck in the approval process, service hiccups, and concerns about app guidelines. It's not uncommon for these challenges to leave loved ones feeling frustrated and disconnected. That's why real pictures that your loved one can hold are irreplaceable. Let's hear from some members of our Pelipost fam on their experiences with tablets:

"Sometimes the tablets don’t work. Like right now my boyfriend's hasn’t worked for 3 days. The video calls where we can see each other also don't always work."
"Tablets don’t always function properly, my loved one has been waiting on a new charger and headphones for a month now and they have not been able to fix the issue with that yet."
"Photos take a very long time to get approved or denied."

The Power of Pictures in Prison

Zooming in on a screen is just not the same as holding a picture in your hands. For those inside prison, physical pictures aren't just snapshots; they're a piece of the outside world they can touch and feel. From decorating their cells to turning pictures into makeshift Christmas lights during the holidays, these tangible memories become a lifeline for emotional connection.

"My husband loves real pictures. He says he feels closer to me when he had the real picture in his hand instead of zooming into the screen."
"I like sending both real pics and tablet pics! The tablet is more convenient but he has to log in every time and he doesn't get his tablet at night. He can decorate his walls with the real pics I send."

Staying Connected Through Visits

Tablets in prison also help facilitate video visitation for families and their incarcerated loved ones.  Visitation with family and friends can make a huge impact on the life of someone in prison. According to research by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, incarcerated individuals who were visited in prison had a 13 percent lower risk of recidivism than those who were not visited in prison. The ability to visit over video using tablets has been a game changer for those who are separated by miles.

"They're not a bad supplement," says Julie Poehlmann, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin who studies families of incarcerated people. Poehlmann, in an interview with NPR, continued, "especially if they're done remotely, so a kid and a family can stay home or be in a comfortable place. If [video] is offered for free, I think that that can help, but I don't think it should ever be a replacement for in-person visits."

"As I live across the ocean in France, along with phone calls and video visits, pictures make him feel included in my everyday life I share with him. He can keep the pics with him in his cell and look at it whenever he wants to, to treasure these precious moments and memories. It really brightens his days and makes his days more bearable there. I make him see through my eyes and it’s priceless for both of us!" -Cécile, Pelipost app user

Tablets in Prison are a Mixed Bag

Tablets, like all technology, aren't perfect. They can break, power outages can happen, and technical glitches are a reality. According to incarcerated writer Tue Kha, tablets offer both benefits and frustrations for our loved ones on the inside. In his article for Prison Journalism Project, Kha writes that tablets provide much-needed entertainment and distractions from the prison environment. But they also come with tech challenges, and a lack of access to education, law, and religious services available on the tablets. "Some guys wonder why there aren’t any GED, college or self-help courses on their tablet, where they could earn certificates for their education and other rehabilitative programs," saya Kha.

"There is plenty of room for improvement, especially when it comes to speeding up the device and making it more efficient. The tablet should be enjoyable, not stressful. As some folks told me, “It’s a blessing and a curse." - Tue Kha, incarcerated writer

At the end of the day, tablets have definitely improved communication for those incarcerated. They also provide entertainment and will hopefully evolve to include more options for education and self-improvement. But there's no replacement for the power of physical pictures in prison. They're not just a supplement; they're a lifeline of connection to the outside world. So, while we embrace new technology, let's celebrate the experience of holding a picture – a tangible reminder that love knows no boundaries.

Stay connected, Pelipost family! 💙📸