I was just saying to myself: "Self," I said, "Our prison system isn't quite inhumane enough.. What can we do to make prisoners feel even more isolated and hopeless?" And then I read this, and knew I could rest assured that experts were on the case!
In the last few years, jails and prisons across the country — 43 states, according to one recent count — have embraced so-called video visitation, more or less a generic version of Skype for inmates. The companies that sell video-visitation systems promote them as a convenience both for prison employees and for the families of inmates: “Save time and money by visiting your incarcerated friends and family from the comfort of your home or office,” promises the website for Securus Technologies, one of the biggest players in the prison communication industry. For family members who live far away from a jail or prison facility, video visitation can indeed provide a welcome option, though it’s not exactly inexpensive: A dollar per minute or higher for video chats is common.
But the companies don’t just provide an additional service. They also strongly encourage jails to eliminate traditional, face-to-face visitation in order to drive more business to their video systems, often making its elimination a stipulation of the jail’s contract with the company. A recent report by the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based think tank, found that 74 percent of county jails that added video visitation also ended traditional visitation. “With face-to-face visits, families talk about how they can put their hand up to the glass and mothers talk about being able to see the skin of the person on the other side,” said Bernadette Rabuy, a co-author of the report. “Things like that that are important, and they’re not possible with a glitchy video system.”
What?!? An outsourced, privatized
kickback contract leads to a low-quality, inconsistent service? C'est impossible!
There are many contractors providing this "service," but according to Al Jazeera, only one of them requires that in-person visits be stopped completely as a condition of the contract. Since we're always looking for ways to cut short-term costs, it's only a matter of time.
Multiple studies show that in-person visits are associated with a lower chance of recidivism, but who cares about long-term implications to society when cost savings and patronage contracts are to be had?