Jails and prisons continue to sacrifice what few physical interactions prisoners have with loved ones on the outside to phone service provider Securus. The New Orleans Advocate reports a local jail is the latest in a long line of correctional facilities to ban in-person visits, replacing them with Securus communication software and hardware.
Inmates at the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center in Gretna will no longer be able to receive in-person visits from relatives and friends beginning Oct. 10, when the facility will begin a “video visitation” program similar to one put in place at New Orleans’ lockup a couple of years ago.
To jailers, this move just makes sense. It all but eliminates contraband smuggling and allows prisons and jails to allocate fewer staffers to monitoring prisoner visits. But it makes little sense for those stuck inside and even less sense for those on the outside who will be spending a lot more money on visits that used to be free.
The Sheriff’s Office said 20-minute sessions will cost nearly $13.
At this per minute rate, it makes no difference visiting hours are being expanded. While it may sometimes be more convenient to Skype prisoners than visit in person, no one’s asking for $0.60/minute communications to be their only option.
But this is something Securus has pushed for a long time. Back in 2015, Securus finally dropped a clause in its contracts that mandated correctional facilities using its equipment move to video-only visits. But that doesn’t mean jails aren’t still heavily encouraged to ban in-person visits. The pivot to video doesn’t just generate an absurd amount of income for the communications provider. It also pads the pockets of prisons.
Jails stand to make a profit by adopting this type of visitation. If families do a video visit at the jail, it’s free, but if they do it from their home computer, it can cost $1 per minute. Securus promised the Cheshire County Jail a 20 percent cut of the thousands of dollars those fees bring in — that cut totaled $2,500 for the jail last year. The county paid $30,000 to install the video system.
This perversity incentivizes prison and jails to further dehumanize inmates by cutting them off from most, if not all, outside human contact while incarcerated. Jails don’t have to step up to full-on bans to discourage visits. They can just enact highly-intrusive search policies and shorten visiting hours to achieve the same effect.
The push to video further benefits the state by ensuring almost every communication between prisoners and outsiders is recorded. In-person visits may be lightly-surveilled by staff, but calls routed through Securus hardware/software are swept up in their entirety, easily accessed by the government.
It’s not like prisoners aren’t warned that all calls are recorded, but these bans eliminate any possibility of an intimate one-on-one conversation with a loved one or family member.
Just as problematic is the government’s access to every conversation. While prisoners have an extremely diminished expectation of privacy, the government has repeatedly overstepped the very minimal boundaries remaining to listen in on privileged calls from prisoners to their legal reps.
And if the per call price seems high now, it’s only going to get worse. Along with attacking net neutrality and loosening regulation of telcos and cable companies, FCC chairman Ajit Pai has made it clear the sky’s the limit for prison phone call fees.
In the end, very little will be done about it. Convicted prisoners are the least sympathetic group when it comes to pushing new legislation. Very few politicians are willing to go to bat for incarcerated people and even fewer constituents are willing to support candidates who appear the least bit empathetic for those behind bars. Topping it all off is the fact that those affected the most cannot vote, despite being handy sources of federal revenue for states and cities housing inmates.
The push will continue to further isolate prisoners, which is only going to serve to reduce the chances of societal reintegration after they’ve done their time. But that’s OK, because the harder it is to return to normal life, the greater the chance released inmates will end up back in prison racking up $15 phone calls that benefit Securus and others willing to shamelessly exploit a very captive audience.
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