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Tablets help inmates at St. Louis County jail ‘feel like we’re human again’

Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
James Ballard, 39, of St. Louis, points out educational modules on a provided tablet on Dec. 2 at the St. Louis County jail in Clayton.

Nearly 14 months ago, St. Louis County jail detainees first received access to tablets for education and entertainment.

Now, they and jail staff alike say the program has made conditions better for everyone. Since the tablets came online, use of force by guards is down 40% and assaults on staff are down 60%, said jail Director Scott Anders.

“It’s night and day,” said Capt. Mario Reed, a veteran corrections officer and acting case manager. “Before the tablets it was like, ‘Hey, we don’t got nothing to do.’ They’re sitting here, just looking at this wall, and that builds up frustration. It would build it up in me.”

Doug Burris, former director of the jail, started the tablet program before he retired in October 2021. Anders finished implementation in his first weeks on the job.

“Reentry is a priority for me, and just making sure that people have the ability to communicate, and access to information, ” Anders said.

For all but three hours a day, residents can use the tablets to access movies, books and educational material, plus read emails and take calls from family and friends. The devices can also be used to fill out forms to request public defenders and apply for training programs.

The tablets are part of St. Louis County’s contract with Securus, which provides telephone and other communications services at the jail. Every resident can access a tablet for phone calls and educational material. Those who want to purchase movies and other entertainment like music or games can essentially rent one for $5 a month.

Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Mindy Kanmer, 59, of Bridgeton, holds up a tablet on Dec. 2 at the St. Louis County jail.

Jose Enriquez has been in the St. Louis County jail since he was arrested in May 2019 on sexual assault charges. Before the tablets, he said, “There was always something going on in the pods.”

“There was always a fight or something,” he said. “Now, it’s calmer, quiet. This keeps us entertained. This keeps our education and our minds going.”

Jade Mills, who was arrested in June on armed robbery charges, had previously been in other jails that did not have the tablets.

“It caused a lot of trouble when you have to share six or seven phones between 50 and 60 people, and you only have like two hours to do so,” she said. “I love these tablets.”

For those who have never been incarcerated before, the tablets have made it just a bit easier to adjust to life in a jail.

“The anxiety levels in here, and the hostility levels and just the disruption of our lives is so, so big,” said Mindy Kammer, who pleaded guilty to second-degree assault in October and was in jail awaiting sentencing. “This just makes us feel like we're human again.”

Kammer’s daughter moved out of town while she was behind bars, and the tablet allowed Kammer to see photos of her new house.

James Ballard, who is also awaiting trial on sexual assault charges, said he appreciated being able to call his kids from the privacy of his cell.

“I can get pictures and stuff, like videos, from my sister and stuff, so it makes it a little easier,” he said.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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