Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Latest from Our Prison Technology Giants

You know how there are people in jail because they can't pay their fines? Well, once they're sent to prison, there are all sorts of ways that for-profit companies make money off of them, too.

One major revenue stream comes from phone calls. The Prison Policy Initiative has been working for years to end these exploitative practices, such as charging $1 a minute for calls.

Today's Star Tribune carried a story called New video visits offer a window for inmates. It was supposed to sound like good news, and it is that, in a way. Prisoners will be able to see their families or friends, rather than just hear their voices. This could be especially good for those in our mostly rural prisons, far from where the majority of inmates' families live.

But here's the bad news: these video calls will cost money.

While you or I can use Skype or FaceTime to video chat for free (aside from our device costs and monthly service charges), prisoners' callers will be paying for the time they use. It sounds like the cost will be $9.95 for a half hour, which sounds reasonable compared to $1 a minute, but is still a good chunk of change for poor families.

The Department of Corrections gets $1 of that ten bucks... the rest goes to a private firm that owns the technology. The name of that company is JPay, which I assume is short for Jail Pay. Which I guess is at least honest about their reason for being.  They're owned by Securus Technologies, which is, the Strib tells us, a "prison technology giant."

We live in a society with companies that are considered prison technology giants. I can't tell you how sick that makes me feel.

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