From the Editor
by Paul Wright
This month’s cover story reports on the relatively recent phenomenon of video visitation. While video visits are technologically new, the underlying principle upon which they are being implemented is not.
PLN has reported extensively on the prison telephone industry and its ruthless gouging of prisoners and their families along with their prison and jail allies, which monetize human contact and literally hold love hostage as a money-making scheme. As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) appears poised to limit the price gouging of people who accept calls from detention facilities, the industry appears to be trying to make up for that soon-to-be-lost revenue by intensifying the pace and scope of video visitation. Given a choice, it seems most people do not like video visits. Thus, facilities often eliminate in-person visits when video visitation is implemented – which removes any choice. Following community protests, jails in Dallas, Texas and Portland, Oregon have rescinded plans to eliminate in-person visits and replace them with monetized video visitation, but those are exceptions.
PLN’s parent organization, the Human Rights Defense Center, will soon be urging the FCC to regulate and limit the costs of video visitation as it has done with prison and jail phone calls. In 2008, I edited an anthology titled Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration. Rather than point out who is harmed by current prison and jail practices, I set out to show who makes money and benefits from the status quo in our criminal justice system. The prison telecom industry figured prominently in the book.
Today a number of private companies are making billions off prisoners and their families. This includes prison phone companies like Global Tel*Link, Securus, CenturyLink and Telmate, as well as JPay, Access and Keefe when it comes to commissary, money transfers and other services. This ongoing and worsening situation has led the Human Rights Defense Center and Working Narratives (co-founders and organizers of the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice) to launch the Stop Prison Profiteering Campaign to halt the financial exploitation of prisoners and their families.
Our first step is to learn more about people’s experiences with these merchants of misery and their sleazy business practices. We are seeking information about the ways prison and jail telecom companies wrongfully seize money; e.g., through automatic forfeiture of prepaid funds after certain periods of account inactivity, charging fees to obtain refunds, patterns of dropped calls that increase phone charges, etc. We are also seeking information about prisoners who receive debit cards when released from prisons and jails, who have to pay fees to access their money on the cards. Lastly, we are seeking information about the fees family members are charged to send money to prison and jail trust accounts, and business practices that serve to increase those fees.
If you or your family members have information about these practices, please write and let us know. We will be running ads in this and future issues of PLN detailing the information we need (see p.37). People can also go to www.stopprisonprofiteers.org to tell their stories and upload video or audio files about how they are being harmed by these exploitive practices. People with Internet access can join the campaign and participate online; please ask everyone you know who is affected by these issues to share their stories with us. Email is the most convenient way to send us information.
We will report on the campaign as it unfolds, which is yet another reason to subscribe to PLN. We also need your financial support to get this campaign up and running, so please make a contribution now if you think the time has come to end the financial exploitation of prisoners and their families. We accept donations via credit card by phone or online at www.prisonlegalnews.org/donate, or donations can be sent by mail.
This issue of PLN also includes a review of the Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual by Dan Manville, which is the third book produced by PLN Publishing. Everything you need to know about prison disciplinary charges and how to fight them is addressed; this is a must-have for anyone doing time. After all, just because you follow the rules doesn’t mean you won’t need this book! The cost is only $49.95 with shipping included. Please encourage prison and jail libraries to order the Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual, as it is the only one of its kind on the market.
Enjoy this issue of PLN and please ask others to subscribe and participate in the Stop Prison Profiteering Campaign.
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