State Corrections Seeks Funding for Laptops, Cloud Network

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has submitted a budget change proposal for financial backing to improve its online architecture and academic offerings for inmates.

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The state department charged with housing and rehabilitating the incarcerated has made a significant budget request to fund a major IT project.

In a budget change proposal (BCP) made available Thursday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation indicated it is seeking $23.2 million in general fund monies and 43 positions in the 2021-2022 Fiscal Year, and $18.4 million from the general fund and 38 positions in FY 2022-23 and ongoing. The funding would enable it to “create a cloud network for rehabilitative programming support” and deploy roughly 37,000 laptops to improve how it offers “rehabilitative programming to the offender population.” Gov. Gavin Newsom specifically referenced this initiative in the revised version of his FY 2021-22 budget proposal, now $267.8 billion, released Friday. Among the takeaways:

  • CDCR has “a responsibility to prepare offenders for release back into society,” it said in the BCP. Its Division of Rehabilitative Programs (DRP) has oversight of “educational and rehabilitative programming” and during the past several fiscal years, the Legislature has “approved expansions in nearly all DRP programs, increasing offender access to rehabilitative programming.” Currently nearly 700 students are enrolled in high school diploma or equivalency courses, nearly 4,000 are enrolled in GED courses and more than 5,000 students are on program waitlists. During the last several years, CDCR has also “integrated technology in both educational and rehabilitative programs and communication areas” to improve services. However, physical space limitations in its institutions, challenges finding educational staff and the COVID-19 outbreak are all barriers to programming.
  • The funding would supply laptops that would have “little to no software” on local hard drives, instead accessing “(m)ost or all content ... through a private and secure cloud network. An academic cloud network is an online portal where students are able to access educational material in a formal academic environment/classroom.” CDCR’s intention, it said, is for this architecture to “supplement” but not replace face-to-face instruction, with the migration from desktops to laptops enabling learning outside the classroom and making facility spaces more flexible. “All existing computer labs would eventually migrate to portable laptop devices, creating more traditional spaces for other rehabilitative uses during non-school hours,” CDCR said, noting that cloud migration will also enable more flexibility in administering tests and assessments. The cloud network proposed would also deliver more access to reentry services; and with the use of video conferencing equipment, would dramatically expand instructors’ reach. The department “believes this is an appropriate starting point without overcommitting resources” given the ability of network bandwidth to connect 5,000 concurrent users to the cloud network, the maximum of no more than 9,000 students in classrooms at any time – and assuming instruction will be half activities and half lecturing/offline.
  • CDCR intends to buy laptops at $300 per device, and its support model includes funding to have faulty computers repaired by the vendor for up to one year, lightening the load on Enterprise Information Systems (EIS) support staff. The devices’ low cost also makes replacement cheaper. EIS seeks staff to “provide foundational support” including system development, and to cover network needs like device and infrastructure support. DRP is asking for headquarters staff to help create and modify content. Should its BCP not be approved as submitted, CDCR offers two alternatives to the request, which it acknowledged would, as written, generate increased cost to the state’s general fund. Approving instead $3.5 million in FY 2021-22 and ongoing to provide 2,600 laptops would “still allow for an enhancement to academic programming efficiency” but would reach a smaller target population. And approving instead $11.6 million in FY 2021-22 to push out 18,500 laptops during a three-year pilot would expand the reach of rehabilitative technology and cost less – but would still generate increased general fund costs and require more funding following the pilot’s success.
  • The new fiscal year begins July 1, and the Legislature has until June 15 to approve the budget. Once it receives the requested resources, CDCR has set a July time frame to begin hiring and building infrastructure, to support a device rollout in January. It plans to deploy 5,200 devices every six months starting in January until “37,300 devices are fully deployed in June 2024.” Five institutions will receive the 5,200 devices in each rollout phase, starting with college students and those close to earning a high school diploma or GED.
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Techwire.