With the recent connection of 32 public spaces now offering free Wi-Fi, provided by the city, it seems that San Francisco is getting much closer to its goal of closing the digital divide.

The result of closing the digital divide, or increasing the availability of technology and access to the Internet among all socioeconomic classes, has driven city officials to push for things like increased municipal Wi-Fi hotspots, as well as the recent decision by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to make it easier to install new fiber optic cables.

Closing the digital divide has now been extended further in a move that has surprised some residents – inmates in San Francisco County Jails will soon have limited access to secure computer tablets, according to SFGate.


The tablets, developed by a company called American Prison Data Systems, are specifically designed to aid inmates in a short list of tasks, such as completing homework assignments, reading novels and preparing for criminal cases.

Eventually the pilot program, spearheaded by Five Keys Charter School, the jail’s school system, seeks to also allow inmates to use the tablets to communicate with family, probation officers, and others on the outside, according to SFGate.

Inmates already participating in the jail’s education system received 125 secure tablets Wednesday. Although inmates are not awarded unrestricted Internet access, the tablets allow inmates to surf four websites, a law library, use a calculator and access various other educational applications developed by Five Keys, according to SFGate.

Currently, much of the U.S. prison system already grants inmates limited technology and Internet access to aid in educational programs. But like the use of cellphones, unsupervised access is banned in virtually all systems across the U.S.

In 2009 the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons instituted the Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer Systems, which has since provided computers to many prison systems throughout the country, allowing inmates limited access to electronic messaging, strictly through plain text email. The program also allows inmates Internet access for educational purposes, but any Internet use outside of the federal program is banned in nearly all states.

SFGate reported that the tablets introduced Wednesday, download information from a secure network and are sealed in a plastic case developed by a military contractor. Additionally, the tablet activity is closely monitored and can be turned off remotely with ease.

KTVU reported that the tablets, as well as the digitizing of Five Keys Charter School’s program was paid for by a $275,000 grant from the California Wellness Foundation, the City’s Adult Probation Department and Five Keys Charter School. Rand Corp. was also hired to track the program’s effectiveness.


Students already enrolled in the school programs will be the first to receive the tablets, while others will be distributed on a need-by-need basis.

When most San Franciscans think about “closing the digital divide,” the push is usually for bringing technology to those in lower class neighborhoods, or those whose socioeconomic conditions make widespread access to technology of low necessity. However, the pilot program to put technology in the hands of those in the justice system is aimed at helping inmates work towards rehabilitation.

The charter school’s executive director, Steve Good, argued that teaching inmates to use the technology, that many elementary school students know how to use, is key to helping them succeed after they have done their time.

By teaching these basic technology skills, inmates will be more likely to get a job, and hold a job, once they are released from incarceration.