South Carolina inmates to get tablets for phone calls, watching movies

Prisoners in South Carolina are in for a technological treat as corrections officials look to provide them with computer tablets to avoid the use of contraband cell phones.

The tablets will be unveiled as part of a technology program that officials hope will stop the smuggling of phones into prisons, Corrections Director Bryan Stirling told The Associated Press on Thursday.

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The devices will allow inmates to make calls home at a cheaper rate than pre-existing phone calling programs, and will also provide access to pre-loaded educational materials and pre-approved streaming movie and music services through a secure Wi-Fi network.

Officials hope the tablets will make the idea of a smuggled-in cell phone less attractive to inmates. Cell phones are illegal but are still smuggled into the state's institutions by the thousands.

"This will go directly to that cellphone problem," Stirling said. "This is going to make our prisons safer."

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Stirling and his predecessors have long spoken out about the dangers of cell phones, in large part due to the unfettered communication they allow both with the outside world and others behind bars. He has referred to the devices as the primary security threat in his prisons and has made eradicating them a top priority.

Officials have said that a riot at the Lee Correctional Institution in April 2018, in which seven inmates died, was sparked over a fight about contraband, including cell phones. Former Corrections officer Robert Johnson was nearly killed in 2010 in a hit orchestrated by an inmate using a cellphone.

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Piloting the program at several prisons before expanding it systemwide, Stirling said the tablets will help with institutional security far past his concerns about cellphones. Simply put, they give idle inmates something to do and occupy time that could be spent on misdeeds.

"People just can't sit around and do nothing all day," Stirling said. "This is something that's going to make it safer for our staff and our officers."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.