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Jail tablets save money, time while increasing safety for inmates

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CHARLOTTE COUNTY, FL (WWSB) - Nicole Hoffenkamp didn't realize the Charlotte County Jail had tablets when she started serving her time.

"To me and I think a lot of inmates, it's everything," she said. "I check it like it's a big cell phone."

But she's glad they do.

"It is basically like having access to an email account but you can't just message anyone. I couldn't just message you. Someone has to accept you."

"We can't watch movies or surf the web or anything like that."

Hoffenkamp uses it mostly to message her boyfriend. "To me it's more like normalcy almost. I don't have to go up to a pay phone or make sure someone has money on the phone." 

She says it gives her piece of mind.

"We are in here. Nothing will happen here but outside that's what I worry about. Obviously, I can't control it but to be able to have this just for your family or husband to say 'I'm okay everything is fine,' just to have that is nice," said Hoffenkamp.

The first two messages a week are free. Then it's 50 cents per message. That's how the company that funds the devices, Smart Communications, pays for the service.

"We do not pay for any of these devices. The company provides them for free," explained CCSO Captain Melissa Turney. 

Captain Turney says before these devices arrived, the county was having problems getting all the inmates to the self help classes that are court ordered.

Now, inmates can take those law classes on the tablets.

"They can log on and do their self help, anger management. They can go into parenting classes online and they can even get a certificate," said Captain Turney. 

These online classes save the county money, because they're free. The in-person classes the jail provides come with a cost to the county. 

"Every unit has enough devices for the number of inmates in that particular unit, and they are allowed to have them during waking periods from the time they wake up until they go to bed," added Captain Turney. 

Just like letters that are mailed to a jail, each message that is exchanged via the tablets, like those between Hoffenkamp and her boyfriend, are closely monitored.

"We actually monitor all of their mail coming and going now, and that's something we've always done," explained Captain Turney. "In fact it might be easier now that it's electronic."

Soon, the inmates will be able to use the tablets to read actual mail as well.

The sheriff's office will be able to scan letters into a system so the inmates can then read them on the tablets.

This they say will cut down on drugs and contraband making its way into the facility. 

The sheriff's office is hoping to have that system in place by January 1, 2018.