Prison Telecom Monopolies Bring Their 'Innovation' To Prison Ebooks
from the ill-communication dept
Over the last few decades, companies like Securus have managed to obtain a pretty cozy, government-supported monopoly over prison phone and teleconferencing services. Like any monopoly, this has pretty traditionally resulted in not only sky high rates upwards of $14 per minute for phone calls, but comically poor service as well. Because these folks are in prison, and as we all know everybody in prison is always guilty, drumming up enough sympathy to convert into political momentum has long proven difficult. Recent efforts to do something about it were scuttled by FCC boss Ajit Pai, whose former clients included Securus.
Apparently we’re now taking the predatory idiocy that has been a cornerstone of prison phone service and applying it to… ebooks. Reason recently had a great write up on how the West Virginia Division of Corrections struck a deal in February with GTL (formerly Global Tel*Link), one of several government-pampered prison telecom monopolies. As part of that deal, prisoners would be given access to restricted tablets to access books and some internet content. The results are just as stupid as you might imagine:
“According to the contract, detailed by Appalachian Prison Book Project, using the tablets will cost $0.05 per minute (currently discounted to $0.03) to read books, listen to music, or play games; $0.25 per minute for video visitations; $0.25 per written message; and $0.50 to send a photo with a message. The Prison Policy Initiative estimated in 2017 that wages in West Virginia prisons range between $0.04 and $0.58 an hour.
Alex Wright, of Level and the Inside Books Project, told Gizmodo that at least eight other states, including Colorado, Missouri, New York, South Dakota, Indiana, Delaware, Maine, and South Carolina, are also offering inmates “free” tablets with absurd restrictions. The WDVC informed the outlet that use of the tablets is optional, and some proceeds will go to fund other projects:
“The West Virginia Division of Corrections collects a 5 percent commission on the charges, but a spokesperson clarified to Gizmodo that all proceeds go to a ?benefit fund? for ?open house visitation, recreational equipment, holiday dinners, and other opportunities that would not otherwise be available.? They further stated that they are still collecting book donations and that using the tablets are optional.”
The big question however remains: why are terrible companies with long histories of terrible behavior being given these contracts in the first place?
Securus and other such companies are part of a dangerously cozy and captive market, where prisons get paid upwards of $460 million annually in “concession fees” (read: kickbacks) to score exclusive, lucrative prison contracts. In this comically absurd environment, the service pricing and quality are just about what you’d expect. Government oversight of these businesses have been virtually non-existent, despite accusations that these companies have allowed some law enforcement to monitor what should be privileged attorney client communications and embroiled in location data scandals.