from the truly-captive-markets dept
As such, ripping off inmate families and delivering sub-par services continues unabated. As many prisons eliminate personal visits, these ICS firms have expanded revenues by pretending to offer next-generation teleconferencing services. But while slightly more economical ($10 for 20 minutes), apparently companies like Securus with no competitors, a captive audience, and no repercussions for sloppy technology haven't quite figured out how to make this whole video chat thing work yet. As a result, inmates who use the services say their experiences are repeatedly abysmal:
"Johnson logged into the Securus Technologies website — a Skype-like communication system used by the Travis County jail — on her PC laptop. But the video player didn't have the latest version of Java. When Johnson installed it, the system insisted she had not. So Johnson tried another laptop — a MacBook this time. Java was working this time, Flash was not.In short, Securus is the Comcast of the industrial incarceration sector, and as a result customer support and service is about what you'd expect. 600 prisons in 46 states now have video visitation, and more prisons are doing away with in site visitations monthly, creating yet more revenue opportunities for ICS outfits. Reformers have been arguing that cutting off in-person visitation increases on-site violence by frustrated inmates, and hindering an inmate's ability to maintain outside connections (kind of hard when your wife and child look like pixelated Godzilla) increases the risk of repeat incarceration:
Thinking the browser might be the problem, Johnson tried launching the video player in Chrome, then switched to Safari before giving up and using the Securus Android app on her phone.
Finally, Coleman's face appeared on screen — barely. For the entire call, a glitch in the system caused Coleman's image to look like a tangle of window blinds. Johnson wanted to talk to Coleman about her case, but through most of the call, she simply repeated, "Hello — can you hear me now?" Johnson was charged $10 for the video visit, even after cutting it a few minutes short of the 20-minute maximum."
"County officials across the country claim video visitation is good for security. When Renaud got ahold of prison records, they showed that incidences of inmate-on-inmate violence, disciplinary infractions and possession of contraband all rose after Travis County did away with in-person visitation. Because visitation is so new, these statistics are the earliest indication that the pro-security pitch for video visitation is all snake oil.The problem is that the dysfunction of prison telecom goes bone deep, and reform efforts remain superficial at best. After decades of inaction, the FCC recently tried to impose new price caps of twenty-two cents per minute on ICS companies, but those rules are on hold thanks to a lawsuit from prison telecom operators like Securus that claim prisons face riots if companies can't keep charging consistent rates.
The past decade in research shows consistently (pdf) that maintaining the relationships the incarcerated will inevitably return to for support once they're released is a powerful agent in keeping them from repeat offenses. One study of over 16,000 incarcerated people found that any visitation at all, even just once, reduced the risk of recidivism by 13% for felony reconvictions."
But the core problem remains that such companies get to pay "concession fees" or "site commissions" (read: kickbacks) to prisons for monopoly control over prison inmate communications services. Prisons are paid $460 million annually in such concession fees, and Los Angeles makes $15 million annually off of such fees alone. Obviously that kind of cash quickly kills any attempt at real reform, so not unlike the outside world, prison telecom services remain an ouroboros of profitable dysfunction; a government-sanctioned monopoly with very real human costs, one nobody in the supply chain wants to even examine, much less actually fix.