Over the past few weeks we have delved into the mythical world of facts that surround a marketing campaign released by Securus on their website. As we come to the end of this series that counters their version of myths and facts surrounding the video visitation product that is taking over visitation in jails across America, we also wanted to educate people on a little bit of the other side of the coin in this industry. Lets start by addressing the last part of the fact page that Securus has created.
Myth: Remote visitation is just like free service such as Skype or Face-time.
The technology, processes, equipment, support, and software associated with remote visitation is more advanced and costly compared to free services such as Skype. With remote visitation, non-professional visits are monitored by a control center, recorded and stored. Sophisticated scheduling programs are implemented to handle device/session conflicts and to allow for inmate movement between pods. User registration processes are complicated and necessary to insure security.
We Say: We happen to agree with Securus’ idea that remote visitation is not just like Skype or Face-time.Our friends at the Prison Policy Initiative even made a series of videos to illustrate that these services are not even in the same realm. You can view their entertainingly true to life videos here where they illustrate the choppy audio and visual quality, disconnected feeling and high cost associated with using a remote video visitation product.
In light of these experiences using Securus’ video visitation system, we refute their inference that the service inmates and their families receive is any more advanced or useful than ordinarily free online services. While we have no doubt that the technology, equipment and support is more advanced, that’s only true in terms of what the facility is receiving, not what those trying to use the video visitation system experience. The “sophisticated scheduling programs” that Securus has created are necessary for providing this service in this environment, so the fact that this is different from free services such as Skype and Face-time is irrelevant.Because Securus makes its profit from people who are paying for this visitation, it would be a problem for them if their software didn’t allow the video call go through. You can see how we might not congratulate them for “advanced technology” that’s necessary to turn a profit and does nothing to improve the experience of people visiting with their incarcerated friends and family.
A Little History
It wasn’t that long ago that people in prisons didn’t have the ability to make phone calls at all. At one point, even the calls in some county jails could be called affordable. Then companies that provided these services came up with a business model that would help them to get more contracts to monopolize this up-and-coming cash cow, which involved incentivizing the contract with commissions for the facilities they were proposing to contract with. As this practice increased, so did the money that was being charged for calls. This created a new and attractive stream of revenue for correctional facilities that may have been strapped for funds, or may have just been greedy and wanted more. In 2013 the FCC made a ruling on the cost of interstate calls effectively capping the rates that could be charged at .21 cents for prepaid calls and .25 cents per minute for collect calls. Prior to this, calls could cost as much as 1.13 a minute.. These business-savvy companies didn’t take long to find a new way to gouge consumers to make up for that loss of revenue. Ancillary fees became the wave that hit consumers pockets. Consumers were charged for things like a connection fee for the first minute, fees to place money on the account, fees for inactive accounts, fees for billing, and more. Currently the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice is gearing up to fight for the people this has unfairly impacted. The FCC is set to rule again soon to take on calls that are placed intrastate, not affected by the previous ruling, as well as the exorbitant fees that get more egregious as the companies scramble to find more sustainable sources of income. Enter remote video visitation, the latest technology that corporations are using to price gouge incarcerated people and their loved ones. We can hope that the FCC ruling will have some impact that will transfer over into this service. What we can’t do is leave it up to chance. I am grateful that families have increased opportunities to stay connected in ways that just a decade ago weren’t available at all. However, it is up to us to let our voices be heard about what acceptable practices are when these companies turn the misfortune of families into their fortune 500 model. If you find these business practices as offensive as we do, then I encourage you to get involved in the Prison Phone Justice Campaign. The upcoming ruling is going to be the platform that we need to fight back as these companies transfer their bad business practices from phone services to video services. We need to be ready and armed to take them on.