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.

Filed Under: charges, ebooks, fees, prisons


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  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 4:37am

    So much wrong in so little space...

    "The West Virginia Division of Corrections collects a 5 percent commission on the charges,

    ... leaving 95% as pure profits I'm guessing, quite a deal for the parasites running the scam.

    '...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.”

    Given they are charging people to read I have little doubt that they'd charge for those too, but even if they were offering such 'opportunities' for free given the inmates are the ones paying for them they don't get to pat themselves on the back for their 'generosity'. If you rob someone you don't get brownie points for giving them the opportunity to get partial use of what you bought with their money.

    They further stated that they are still collecting book donations and that using the tablets are optional."

    Showers and eating more than literal bread and water are also 'optional' when you get to set the rules, but that wouldn't prevent charging a literal captive customer base at extortionate rates for them from being a dick move.

    Amazing what magically becomes acceptable with a mix of abusive monopolies run by sociopaths and the mindset that convicts aren't really people and therefore don't deserve to be treated as such.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 6:38am

    why are terrible companies with long histories of terrible behavior being given these contracts in the first place?

    Because nobody generally gives a shit about people in prison. </sad-but-true>

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 6:50am

    Maybe we put the wrong "robbers" in gaol?

    The people running these schemes are worse than the inmates.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 6:51am

    Re: Maybe we put the wrong "robbers" in gaol?

    Rob a bank: Steel cuffs.

    Rob a state/country: Golden parachute(if needed).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 6:54am

    To wit: Enron.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 6:56am

    Re: So much wrong in so little space...

    "The West Virginia Division of Corrections collects a 5 percent commission on the charges,
    ... leaving 95% as pure profits I'm guessing, quite a deal for the parasites running the scam.

    The company has to provide the tablets and e-books themselves.

    That'll drop them down to a modest 94% of revenue being pure profit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 7:00am

    Re: Re: Maybe we put the wrong "robbers" in gaol?

    I always found it ironic that a golden parachute would probably kill you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 7:07am

    Karl, your quotes around Innovation suggest that you might be confused (or maybe not).

    They haveclearly found a new, and very clever way to screw people over, and generally be monsters, without any significant public backlash or bad publicity.

    That (unfortunately) does qualify as innovation. Just not a technological one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 7:10am

    Re:

    [Sad but True]

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 7:46am

    Now I know what to smuggle into jail

    A 128gb microsd card would be almost impossible for them to find on a person my size. I could supply my entire ebook collection and give those guys tens of thousands of books to copy and read without paying anything to the companies making money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Norahc (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 7:54am

    The big question however remains: why are terrible companies with long histories of terrible behavior being given these contracts in the first place?

    Who knows? Maybe WV is trying to become the Hillbilly Chicago.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 7:55am

    Re: Now I know what to smuggle into jail

    But would the inmates have anything other that those controlled tablets to read them on. (Assume the tablets report their contents to the company).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Norahc (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 7:56am

    Re: Re: Now I know what to smuggle into jail

    And assuming the SD card port hasn't been disabled.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 8:15am

    Another failure of the privatize everything crowd.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    nasch (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 8:46am

    Re: Now I know what to smuggle into jail

    I don't think that would help much.

    using the tablets will cost $0.05 per minute (currently discounted to $0.03) to read books, listen to music, or play games;

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 9:02am

    Re:

    It's not a failure from those that are profiting from it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 9:03am

    Re: So much wrong in so little space...

    These prison phones are bugged/ tapped. They are listening to desperate unconvicted citizen's conversations and reporting to DA and courts very personal conversations. They can all boil in hell as far as I'm concerned.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 9:06am

    Re:

    Its technological just not innovative, but sadistic sick and twisted. Innovation is supposed to make everyone feel warm and rosey.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 9:08am

    Re: Re:

    Until some very stark day when they realise GOD was watching them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    bobob, 2 Dec 2019 @ 9:13am

    Terrible companies with long histories of terrible behavior are being given these contracts because they spent money brib^h^h^h^h influencing legislators to see things their way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Norahc (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 9:56am

    Re:

    Aka lobbying.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    ECA (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 11:08am

    Anyone think..

    we could supply the survice for ALLOT cheaper..?

    And if they dont take you up on it, you ask the State and feds to investigate??
    Then report it to the News agency that they arnt taking a service thats Cheaper??

    Most you would need top do...
    Dig up and re-install The phone cable, because they will claim they installed it.. Install a Coax or Fiber line direct to the building and connect to a Router to the nearest Telephone company or Straight to the Backbone..
    Probably $10,000 at the most and you should get that back in...30-90 days..
    $1 per 15 min call, in 15 min increments.
    If you really want to.. but take longer to earn it back..
    $0.10 per 15...

    THEN what are the odds, that the other prisons will want the service...ONLY if they are truly independent PARTS of the system, and not 1 BIG conglomerate, trying to get every penny they can..

    The old work houses were Mostly fair.. Even Churches did it fairly, mostly...
    Jails...Have NEVER been fair to people..(a few have and have also been forgotten(because they worked))

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 11:11am

    Innovation, the spawn of capitalism

    It's a common erroneous presumption to assume that all innovation is good or ethical.

    Among most company innovations, lobbying state officials yields the highest rate of returns.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    ECA (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 11:11am

    Re: Anyone think..

    AJit...

    Is to connected to the corps he is supposed to be monitoring,..
    And its also been shown that He and his groups have NOT been doing any of the jobs Given to them, even tho they gave the Major one to the FTC..

    Can we fire him?? there has to be a way for the Citizens to Complain and take it to court or have a pole, to get him and his group OUT.
    Does anyone remember how this is supposed to work??

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    Cdaragorn (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 12:24pm

    Re: Innovation, the spawn of capitalism

    Among most company innovations, lobbying state officials yields the highest rate of returns

    No more common or erroneous than that. Only true for those currently enjoying monopoly level power over their markets.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 12:57pm

    I bet the tablets can be force-booted into troubleshooting mode.

    From there it may be tricky to jailbreak each tablet, especially if it has to access the WiFi to access a workable OS.

    More likely the tablets won't get used at all since their use is priced out of the affordability range of the inmates.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 1:06pm

    I don't trust the justice of higher order deities...

    ...but Martinian karma (as in _SIF_) seems to be more reliable.

    When our system makes it easy to become an inmate and treat them cruelly, it drives active criminals to avoid prison at all costs. It drives citizens aware they might be outlawed at any time to cooperate less with law enforcement. It drives inmates to look for any means to disrupt the system.

    Make them miserable enough, and they'll riot to the death. Torture them and you make heroes of any inmate that successfully humiliates or murders a guard. If you turn that grinder long enough, the next regime will make a holiday of the day the inmates were freed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 1:23pm

    Re: Re:

    It is not sustainable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    nasch (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 1:49pm

    Re: I bet the tablets can be force-booted into troubleshooting m

    The unlocking techniques I've seen for Android all require connecting to a PC, so that is going to be difficult. But there could be others out there that don't, I don't know. If they have any kind of reasonable system the devices are wiped and restored daily so you would have to root it for every use. But they may not have a reasonable system.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 1:54pm

    Re: I don't trust the justice of higher order deities...

    The next regime won't house any prisoners. They'll just kill them quietly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 2:26pm

    "They'll just kill them quietly."

    While common and accepted during the middle ages, it won't hold up in the modern age. It's how you get resistance fighters with bombs strapped to their chests willing to go on suicide missions.

    Then again, turning your prisons into gulags does the same thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 2:26pm

    As of this year, AZ uses JPay, which is a Securus company, for their "free" tablets with ridiculous usage fees. And they don't even have all the features enabled.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 2:48pm

    Motherboard's take on the subject

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. icon
    Chris ODonnell (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 3:13pm

    25 cents per email

    I had a family member that was a guest of the Georgia Corrections Dept recently. It cost me 50 cents to send an email (.25 for the email and .25 to prepay so he could reply) plus 25 cents per attachment if I included photos.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 2 Dec 2019 @ 5:36pm

    Re: Motherboard's take on the subject

    Compare the author of that piece with the author of this one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 6:15pm

    Re: "They'll just kill them quietly."

    Killing inmates quietly goes on all the time. It might not be happening on a grand scale, but given extremely heinous crimes and high profile participation in some horrific crimes in order to prevent testimony, inmates are sometimes quietly hung in the late hours. Its common practice to pull inmates from their cells at night to be roughed up. Many don't return. The public is none the wiser.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2019 @ 6:21pm

    Re: I don't trust the justice of higher order deities...

    "I don't trust the justice of higher order deities."

    Do you know any? That is one thing I do not have to do is to convince someone the Creator of this universe is just. Everyone will someday find out for themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 Dec 2019 @ 6:11am

    Re:

    "Because nobody generally gives a shit about people in prison. </sad-but-true>"

    Which is beyond insane given that the whole point of a "correctional facility" is to ensure that the people who go in hard come out soft, rather than the other way around.

    When a prison becomes a facility which manufactures harder and more desperate criminals better schooled in criminal networking and "being A Better Crook 101" then you've got a problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 Dec 2019 @ 6:21am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "Until some very stark day when they realise GOD was watching them."

    Not even then.

    Take the random unethical Profiteer - he grows up, starts taking advantage of people and continues to do so for 40-50 years.

    In his golden years he then repents, discovers religion, and as long as he's honest about it, at least the christian godhead is bound by hiw own rules to forgive everything.

    Moral of the story? As long as you repent in the end you can spend your youth and middle age an utter douche without any redeeming quality. And this might be, i point out, where it's quite normal for old people to mellow out and change their ways in general.

    If religion is wrong, otoh, the douche will have spent his life to full satisfaction save for that bit at the end where he got troubled over morals...and then his existence ends the same way it does for everyone else.

    Anyone comforting themselves that god ah'mighty is going to put the screws on evil people is just plain wrong unless they have some evidence to bring to the table that karma will in fact strike within the guilty party's lifetime.

    By all evidence that we have there's only one obstruction to unscrupulous opportunists. The common voter exercising a hindrance through their elected representatives.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 Dec 2019 @ 6:23am

    Re: Re: I don't trust the justice of higher order deities...

    "That is one thing I do not have to do is to convince someone the Creator of this universe is just."

    On the contrary we have ample evidence that if there is a creator then said creator is either utterly indifferent or actively malicious.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 3 Dec 2019 @ 11:38am

    Someday finding out

    Supposing we had a computer AGI, it would be able to experience the process of powering down, or of its hardware failing so that it shuts down.

    But it wouldn't ever get to experience the state of being powered down.

    Likewise, the mechanism that allows human beings to discover (or find out) is contingent on them being alive.

    Of course (and this is getting really out there) if we're in a simulation, we can only detect the symptoms of existence and activity that are simulated. But so far, all processes have a detectable footprint.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 3 Dec 2019 @ 12:22pm

    Utterly indifferent or actively malicious

    I'd guess the former. The sense of right and wrong is particular to animals with complex social structures, and the specific rules change between species and communities. (Do we punish kids to associate pain with wrongdoing or appeal to their sense of empathy? Do we encourage competition or cooperation?) Human right and wrong seems only to concern itself with human affairs.

    Especially human affairs. We fixate on cheating spouses rather than unjust war, or institutionalized torture, or economy-wrecking corporate fraud.

    We define as evil those things that cause us suffering, that we can bulwark against. Most evils are natural: plagues, hurricanes, predators and poisonous animals, and much of our civilization is about keeping them at bay.

    Social evils are always controversial and contingent. It's wrong to lie, but it's right to lie to Nazis about the Jewish refugees you're harboring from them. It's wrong to murder, but it's right to kill-to-neutralize in defense of yourself or others who cannot defend themselves. Or to end suffering. Or in trolley problems.

    In the modern day, the conflict is between social contracts and institutional law. Our society is contractarianist: we seek to pass laws that will benefit the society and its people if everyone follows them. But then the institutions that write those laws and enforce those laws have decayed to corruption, so they pass laws that benefit the institutions (and people with power) but not everyone else.

    The failings of our religious institutions is no different. No amount of alleged divine providence has prevented them from succumbing to internal corruption alongside commercial and state institutions.

    So yeah, no divine intervention is detected or required to explain where we are. It would be nice if God hot-patched our brains so we could better cooperate, so we might actually be embarrassed by embarrassments of filthy lucre and turn our billions to large social projects, so we could rapidly organize, clean up the planet and take to the stars. But I don't believe any of this will happen.

    Also it's rather species-centric of me to want humankind to thrive and prevail over the countless other species that are dying out. I want the human being to be the pride and joy of the universe, rather than naked apes with hypertrophied brains who couldn't get our acts together to escape our speck of dust.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2019 @ 8:28pm

    Re: Utterly indifferent or actively malicious

    Humans are eternal beings. You have to figure it out for yourself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2019 @ 8:45pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I think the saying went, "forgive them for they know not what they do." I think if you know what you are doing is wrong, don't count on being forgiven for it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2019 @ 8:53pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    There are at least a million ways to deny GOD's existence in one's life. There is only one way to accept him into one's life.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 4 Dec 2019 @ 12:26am

    Eternal beings

    It takes a fuckton of hubris to make such an assertion.

    The universe is not eternal and will eventually die. The human species will be lucky to survive for two centuries from now, and with each day we we don't act to curb toxic waste, we decrease our chances.

    All of human history is but the blink of an eye in geological time, let alone cosmological time. When we die out, whether it is in one century, or one hundred centuries, the universe is not going to notice.

    We have no evidence that human beings are anything more than clever meat, and not for want of trying to detect it. Human souls and the afterlife are not compatible with quantum dynamics. So if we live longer than our mortal shells, it would indicate the universe is something other than the super-consistent material world that we've established through millennia of observation, say, it's simulated.

    I'm sure it is fun to pretend otherwise. I'm sure it is comforting to have faith in some narrative that suggests there is human spirit and an afterlife. But none of these are backed by evidence. They're shared pretenses, and they only last as long as the participants keep pretending.

    There's a non-zero chance you're right, Anonymous Coward but I'm certainly not going to count on it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 4 Dec 2019 @ 12:58am

    "There is only one way"

    Anonymous Coward Whatever church or faith you are from, there are thousands that believe God will refuse you salvation, and many of them would outlaw your faith and burn you for heresy, if not infidelity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Dec 2019 @ 2:24am

    Re: Utterly indifferent or actively malicious

    "I'd guess the former. The sense of right and wrong is particular to animals with complex social structures, and the specific rules change between species and communities. (Do we punish kids to associate pain with wrongdoing or appeal to their sense of empathy? Do we encourage competition or cooperation?) Human right and wrong seems only to concern itself with human affairs."

    The deist view, in other words.

    "So yeah, no divine intervention is detected or required to explain where we are. It would be nice if God hot-patched our brains so we could better cooperate..."

    This, right there!

    According to the religious the clincher is "free will" - but if that was the case, why design human brains to be so completely inept at long-time consideration or even basic logic? Some 90% of the suffering and harm caused in the world today has less to do with malice and more to do with generic ineptitude at predicting consequences.
    Which is, incidentally, my case for said hypothetical creator being actively malicious by first in this scenario creating an organism designed to fail and then telling them they've got "free will" when in reality most acts of "evil" can be summarized as a string of predictive failures.

    "I want the human being to be the pride and joy of the universe, rather than naked apes with hypertrophied brains who couldn't get our acts together to escape our speck of dust."

    And yet, here we are. Have a banana?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Dec 2019 @ 2:27am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "I think the saying went, "forgive them for they know not what they do." I think if you know what you are doing is wrong, don't count on being forgiven for it."

    That's neither how the new testament puts it nor how most any christian denominations teach it. If you repent, your sins are forgiven. Another article of faith in christianity, I'm afraid.

    Or are you saying that the sermon of the mount was a load of bullshit?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Dec 2019 @ 2:34am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "There is only one way to accept him into one's life."

    Well, obviously. You'd have to be delusional to begin with, or accept a number of outright lies and fairy tales as being 100% truth to go down that one road.

    And even if you DO want to go down that road, WHICH faith would you say is the right one, pray tell?

    The zoroastrians, first to describe an almighty creator and the world as a struggle between good and evil?

    The jewish, syncretizing their old mountain god El Shaddai with the zoroastrian Zurvan?

    christians, followers of the self-styled son of the aforementioned god?

    or the muslims who follow the latest and - according to them - last prophet of the aforementioned godhead?

    ...not going to go into the numerous other faiths with far older roots around. You are still basically claiming a status of "chosen" because you subscribe to one specific fairy tale among hundreds.

    Believe what you wish. Just for your own sake don't embarrass yourself by claiming that everyone else should believe in your specific power fantasy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2019 @ 10:45am

    Re: Re: Utterly indifferent or actively malicious

    Good luck.. because that is all you got to ride on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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