In May 2023, the City and County of San Francisco launched the nation’s first tablet program that is completely free, with no hidden costs, to all people incarcerated in the local jails. Through this tablet program, every incarcerated person in the San Francisco jails has access to a tablet where every service is free. At no cost to them or their family, people can participate in educational and well-being programs, prepare for reentry by searching for job listings and housing, access important legal resources, make commissary orders and medical requests, and submit grievances. They also have free access to e-books, audiobooks, movies, and music provided through a first-of-its-kind collaboration with the San Francisco Public Library.
San Francisco’s new tablet program serves as a model for jails and prisons across the country to provide free tablets with a range of free features.In many other jails and prisons, tablets are used to profit off of incarcerated individuals and their families. These high costs are typically borne not by incarcerated people themselves, who make little to no income while incarcerated, but rather are paid by people’s families, most of whom have low incomes and are people of color. Providing free tablets to all incarcerated people lifts a financial burden off of them and their families, advances racial and economic equity, and ensures all incarcerated people have free and equitable access to reentry resources.
The free tablet for all incarcerated people was made possible through a unique collaboration between the San Francisco Mayor’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, Public Library, The Financial Justice Project in the Treasurer’s Office, and the San Francisco Jail Justice Coalition. We are proud of this first-in-the-nation reform in San Francisco and hope that this issue brief will be helpful to other jurisdictions that aim to eliminate the high costs of incarceration for families and incarcerated people.