DALLAS — Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown undoubtably found a few surprises after being sworn into the role in 2019, and she said bringing in tablet computers for the inmates certainly caught her off guard.

“When I first took office and learned this was the plan, I backed up and said, ‘Wait a minute,’” said Sheriff Brown with a laugh. “Do what?”

However, two and a half months later, Brown and many others on her staff are praising the out-of-the-box idea, saying they’re excited to see its full potential.

In mid-October, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department introduced the tablet technology from tech company Securus Technology into their jail. According to county leaders, the tablets are designed specifically for use by incarcerated individuals and run on a heavily secured, private network that doesn’t allow inmates connection to the world wide web, but does allow them to connect with approved loved ones for messaging and limited communications.

In video provided by Securus from the tablet rollout, Dallas County inmate Samuel Bertram could be seen using the messenger to chat with his young daughter and son.

“Yeah, it’s awesome. My daughter’s already, she’s on my e-messaging so she messages me all the time,” said Bertram.

The sheriff said that communication on individual devices is proving especially useful right now. In recent weeks, the Dallas County Jail went back into lockdown, no longer allowing in-person visitation in an effort to prevent the new omicron variant of COVID-19 from running wild among the close-quarters population.

“They can, indeed, keep connection and keep contact with their family and loved-ones,” said Sheriff Brown adding that kind of connection is essential in the corrections process.

Brown said correction and rehabilitation is actually a big selling point on the tablets for her and many other jail and prison administrators taking them on. In addition to the communication opportunities, inmates have access to a preloaded, closed library of music, media, and resources to aid them in self-improvement, growth and rehabilitation from their past errors.

“They can access the law library, educational material, they can access religious services, and job search services,” said Brown.

According to representatives from Securus, the technology is already being used in jails and prisons across the country and throughout jails in Fort Worth, Austin, Houston and a number of others are taking them on as well as several of the state’s prisons. Brown said it’s working as an incentive for inmates to do better, and she said she’s observed better behavior and better cooperation as staff use the tablets as a sort-of reward for inmates following the rules and doing what they’re supposed to do. 

“This gives them something constructive to do,” said Sheriff Brown. “When I went over the younger inmates were helping the older less experienced inmates with their tablets as well.”

Brown said she expects the use of technology as a rehabilitation tool to continue to grow in facilities throughout the state, with plenty of controls in place.