New York Department of Correction officials are restarting a program that provides electronic tablets to people detained in city jails, allowing them to call family members and access educational services, a digital law library and electronic books.
The deal is part of a contract with the company that provides phone services in the jails, Securus Technologies, and comes about a month after Gothamist reported that the previous contract had quietly ended.
The Department of Correction's contract with tablet provider APDS ended June 30 and was not extended for reasons that officials did not explain. That program was completely free for detainees; it included movies and had the capacity to provide video calls. It had been in place since 2015, and during the pandemic it was expanded to reach almost all of the approximately 5,000 detainees.
The loss of the tablets last summer left detainees idle and isolated. Experts said it may have contributed to increased tensions and historic highs in violence.
Correction Commissioner Louis Molina told members of the City Council at a criminal justice committee hearing on Tuesday that he didn’t know how much the city was paying Securus Technologies for the tablets, since the contract had not yet been “registered.” He said many services would be free for detainees — access to educational services, a digital law library, e-books, AM/FM radio and free phone calls to loved ones — but added that there will be “premium” services that will cost detainees money.
Molina didn’t say what the premium services might be, but movies and video calls were not among the freebies he listed.
Advocates feared that detainees would have to pay for services when the city ended its contract with APDS, and officials said they were negotiating a new one.
The city comptroller's office said it also did not yet know the terms of the tablet deal.
“The announcement of these new tablets has been accompanied by a characteristic lack of transparency by the Department of Correction,” said Naomi Dann, a spokesperson for City Comptroller Brad Lander. “We are looking into this program and have real concerns, especially in light of past violations of privacy rights of people in detention and predatory fees that have accompanied past tablet programs.”
The tablets have so far been distributed to people detained at two jails. Going forward they will be personally assigned to detainees for the duration of their stay, according to the Department of Correction.
The headline of this story was updated for clarity.