Humpday Hall of Shame: Human Resources laurels for Securus' inhumane corporate practices

This week's Humpday Hall of Shame is written for us by guest blogger Jorge Renaud, policy analyst with the Texas Criminal Justice Coaliton

Words matter, as do the accolades we give to each other to recognize achievement and progress. Both must be grounded in an agreed-upon understanding of terms. Otherwise, we have a grotesquerie similar to the one achieved when Henry Kissinger – whose idea to deescalate the Vietnam War by bombing Cambodia resulted in 40,000 deaths there – was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.

An entity named DallasHR saw fit to award its 2014 Human Resource Executive of the Year Award to Kate Lengvel, a vice president in Human Resources for Securus Technology. If your memory needs refreshing, Securus is the Dallas-area company that provides telephone and video services to a bunch of U.S. jails and prisons and also trumpets a product line called Satellite Tracking of People (STOP). This latest is reminiscent of a long-time Texas tradition whereby ranchers staple identifying markers to the ears of their cattle to keep accurate counts of their herds, and it’s pretty well indicative of what Securus does – dehumanize incarcerated individuals and their families, all for profit.

DallasHR named Lengvel as Executive of the Year for whatever it was she did in 2014, which is the same year Securus demanded that the Dallas County Jail halt all face-to-face visits between individuals in that jail and anyone caring enough to visit them. The reason for that demand was so Securus could squeeze more money from people whose only remaining option, if they wanted to have visual contact with individuals incarcerated in the jail, would be to pay Securus and visit via video.  Dallas-area advocates fought that move, enlisted Judge Clay Jenkins in the battle and persuaded local officials that the idea was not in the best interests of anyone concerned. Except, perhaps, for Securus, which applied salve to its wounds through profits gained from the video-only visitation services it provides to Travis, Bastrop, McLennan, and eight or so other Lone Star State county jails, with Bexar County soon to follow.

Evidently, to DallasHR, the resources needed to be ineffably and demonstrably human, such as empathy and consolation and support and love when in crisis, are not resources to be acknowledged but to be snuffed out by corporate policy. A graphic example of the resources needed, but ignored, by those using Securus products was given by Jennifer Long, an arts educator for gifted and talented youth in Dallas. Long turned to Securus so she could stay in contact with her boyfriend, locked up in the Florida state prison system. As Long points out, the resources Securus values are those quantified in “new revenue” streams, and it is likely those resources that Lengvel is so adept at producing.

The company that Lengvel represents recently said in a promotional release that it was committed to providing software technology that reduced the “inconvenience of incarceration” for those in the system. Words matter.  Surely DallasHR can find a company to recognize for its excellence in human resources other than one that sees incarceration as merely “inconvenient” and finds nothing wrong with policies that do not see people as humans but as revenue streams, and whose goal is to continually increase its bottom line through the commodification of despair.