The Free Prison Tablets that Aren't
(CCJR did not write this article - see NH facts below)
No one told inmates in Colorado why their tablets were being taken away. On August 1, around two years after the Colorado Department of Corrections rolled out its much-hyped program “gifting” every inmate in the state a free iPad-esque tablet, the CDOC suddenly decommissioned them. Nearly all of the 18,000 tablets distributed to inmates across state prisons were removed. A spokesperson told the Denver Post that the tablets were pulled due to “unforeseen security issues.”
Since 2016, prison telecommunications companies like JPay and Global Tel Link have been giving out thousands of free tablets to inmates in several states, including New York, Florida, Missouri, Indiana, Connecticut, and Georgia. While the tablets are marketed as ways to let inmates educate themselves, prepare to re-enter the workforce, and communicate with their loved ones, the economics behind what has become a free-tablet imbroglio suggest that in some cases the operation is no more than a money grab for every player in the chain, from state governments to the distributors.
The tablets feature each company’s unique online marketplace, which is something like an iTunes/Venmo/Gmail mashup, allowing inmates to send emails, video chat, receive money transfers, and download select movies, TV shows, and music. Most tablets block internet access, though in some states inmates are allowed to visit online libraries and news sites. And though tablets are typically custom to the telecommunications companies, some operate out of established systems like the Google Nexus 7.
Colorado was the first state to adopt a free tablets program in 2016. At the time, the pitch from telecommunications company JPay was purely charitable: inmates would get a way to connect to the outside world, and prisons said that the tablets would “improve [prisoners’] behavior,” leading to safer environments. The tablets also came equipped with education programs and online law libraries, all of which would be provided to inmates for free. The price point was difficult to argue with. Yet for many inmates and their families, that price tag has not panned out as promised. “It’s very misleading to call them free,” said Stephen Raher, a lawyer and volunteer at the Prison Policy Initiative who researches communication systems in prison. “I get that there are some systems where you might get the tablets free of charge, but if you want to do anything with that tablet, you have to pay, and the prices are eye-raising for anyone, but especially for people earning 40 cents, $2 a day.”
In New York, for example, JPay — which aspires to be the “Apple of prisons” — gave out 52,000 free tablets in February 2018. By 2022, it expects to make all of that money back plus $9 million in profit, according to internal company documents. That’s because of the way it has priced even its most basic inmate services.
JPay charges an additional $4.15 service fee to transfer $20 from the outside to an inmate. Sending one email costs $.35, double that to include a photo, and quadruple to include a video. A song can cost up to $2.50, and an album can be — somewhat inexplicably — as much as $46. Chat with a loved one? That’ll be $18 per hour. But even these prices fluctuate during busy seasons. For instance, WIRED reported that the price of an email might increase from $.35 to $.47 around Mother’s Day, when inmates most want to communicate with loved ones.
“It’s prices that are way over market rates, and it just seems like predatory pricing, just pure profit-seeking,” said Raher. “That’s money that needs to come from family members, and usually there’s a fee associated with sending it to someone’s commissary account. It’s a very predatory system.”
As of January 2017, fees related to money transfers alone generated an estimated $99.2 million in revenue for companies like JPay, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. The average fee was about 10 percent. This all comes from the coffers of inmates, who earn an average of $.92 per hour for their labor, and families of inmates, who tend to be much poorer than average families. Family members of inmates who requested anonymity told the The Outline that as much as 25 percent of their monthly income went to paying for phone calls, video chats, and digital commissary items like games.
JPay is owned by Securus, a conglomerate of prison tech companies notorious for tracking U.S. cell-phones and for its security vulnerabilities that exposed the mobile data of potentially every American to hackers in May 2018. (Securus is operated by Tom Gores, the billionaire owner of the Detroit Pistons, who acquired it in November 2017 for $1.5 billion.)
Securus’ main competitor is Global Tel Link, a powerful telecommunications company familiar to listeners of the podcast Serial (“This is a Global Tel Link prepaid call from…”). If recent acquisitions are approved, Securus and GTL will have a combined share of as much as 84 percent of the prison telecommunications market. Securus and GTL are responsible for the predatory pricing of prison phone calls; in some states, a 25-minute phone call can cost as much as $15. They’re also behind the vast majority of prison tablets.
Companies like JPay and GTL often sign contracts with entire state prison systems, and prisoners have no choice but to use whichever company is chosen for them. Many states earn a portion of the revenue generated from prisoners using the tablets, so the incentive is to pick the company with the highest prices: the more that a telecommunications company makes off the inmates, the more the prison makes.
(According to this Article) Both companies allegedly use that money in exchange for political favors: the Mississippi attorney general accused GTL of bribing the state’s main corrections officer with commissions so that he would cut more lucrative contracts with the company. (GTL settled for $2.5 million in August 2017.)
- New Hampshire Tablet Program -
The above article raises some serious questions so we decided to look into what our own Department of Corrections is doing. We have discovered that New Hampshire State Prison also accepts free Tablets from Global Tel Link.
Based upon information we received the NH DOC receives the tablets free but sells them to inmates who want to own their own. NH inmates can either purchase a tablet or sign a free one out for use. There are approximately 4 tablets per pod (living area) to be shared for those unable to purchase their own tablet. The tablets can be used for purchasing and listening to music, making phone calls, sending and receiving emails, receiving photos, and ordering their commissary items. We have not confirmed the price, but families report the cost was somewhere between $159.00 and $199.00.
According to (GTL) each state prison negotiates their own contract which is why prices and fees seems to vary across the nation.
"All services provided to Correctional Facilities are provided under contract. Each contract includes a unique mix of communications services, equipment, and software for blocking, screening and monitoring calls, and other specialized functions as required by the Correctional Facility. The rates and charges, including installation, special construction, and recurring charges are negotiated on an Individual Case Basis (ICB), taking into account such factors as the nature of the facilities and services, cost of construction and operation, the volume of the traffic commitment, and the length of the contract. All similarly situated Correctional Facilities are treated on a non-discriminatory basis." -copied
We are in the process of gathering and documenting information on the fees and costs for NH inmate's and families. So far we have discovered that the actual cost of a 60 minute call (0.01 cents per minute) or 0.78 cents for 60 minutes. If true, this appears to be fair and below pay phone fees.
There are other fees:
You can access the inmates email by creating an account with ConnectNetwork.com. The cost for each email up to 2000 characters is 0.40 cents each. It costs .40 cents for someone to send a photo. It costs the inmate the same to send an email. Inmates are restricted from sending photos. Friends and families can set up an account for up to $50.00 for the inmate to call your number only.
One family told us that the tablet program has been a true game changer for their incarcerated loved one and their family. They said, "No more waiting in line to use the phone. No more dealing with the thugs who have had a strong hold on the phones which leaves many inmates unable to use them."
We are including the companies web page with information on the tablet program Link and a GTL video interviewing various correctional officers, inmates and family members all praising the program. Link What do you think?
* We would love to hear from you concerning your experiences with the NH Tablet Program. firstname.lastname@example.org
America’s For-Profit Criminal Justice is Crushing the Poor
A recent push by Senator Bernie Sanders to eliminate cash bail highlights how systemic monetizing of law enforcement continues to enrich cops, courts, and prosecutors. Watch the Video
Arrested, Jailed and Charged With a Felony.
GRAHAM, N.C. — Keith Sellars and his daughters were driving home from dinner at a Mexican restaurant last December when he was pulled over for running a red light. The officer ran a background check and came back with bad news for Mr. Sellars. There was a warrant out for his arrest.
As his girls cried in the back seat, Mr. Sellars was handcuffed and taken to jail.
His crime: Illegal voting.
“I didn’t know,” said Mr. Sellars, who spent the night in jail before his family paid his $2,500 bond. “I thought I was practicing my right.”
Mr. Sellars, 44, is one of a dozen people in Alamance County in North Carolina who have been charged with voting illegally in the 2016 presidential election. All were on probation or parole for felony convictions, which in North Carolina and many other states disqualifies a person from voting. If convicted, they face up to two years in prison.
While election experts and public officials across the country say there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, local prosecutors and state officials in North Carolina, Texas, Kansas, Idaho and other states have sought to send a tough message by filing criminal charges against the tiny fraction of people who are caught voting illegally.
“That’s the law,” said Pat Nadolski, the Republican district attorney in Alamance County. “You can’t do it. If we have clear cases, we’re going to prosecute.”
The cases are rare compared with the tens of millions of votes cast in state and national elections. In 2017, at least 11 people nationwide were convicted of illegal voting because they were felons or noncitizens, according to a database of voting prosecutions compiled by the conservative Heritage Foundation. Others have been convicted of voting twice, filing false registrations or casting a ballot for a family member.
The case against the 12 voters in Alamance County — a patchwork of small towns about an hour west of the state’s booming Research Triangle — is unusual for the sheer number of people charged at once. And because nine of the defendants are black, the case has touched a nerve in a state with a history of suppressing African-American votes.
Local civil-rights groups and black leaders have urged the district attorney to drop the prosecution, saying that black voters were being disproportionately punished for an unwitting mistake. African-Americans in North Carolina are more likely to be disqualified from voting because of felony convictions; their rate of incarceration is more than four times that of white residents, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit organization.
“It smacks of Jim Crow,” said Barrett Brown, the head of the Alamance County N.A.A.C.P. Referring to the district attorney, he added, “I don’t think he targeted black people. But if you cast that net, you’re going to catch more African-Americans.”
Mr. Nadolski said that race and ethnicity are not a factor in any case he prosecutes.
The prosecution comes even as several states are reconsidering longstanding laws that strip voting rights from an estimated 6 million Americans who have been convicted of felonies. A growing national movement is encouraging former felons to register to vote, or to push to have their rights restored, with the hope of empowering them and shedding the stigma of criminal convictions. This has happened before.
[ Read a Q. and A. with Jack Healy about the case and American election law. ]
The North Carolina case also has become part of a partisan war over voting rights ahead of this November’s midterm elections. When asked Wednesday about the president’s comments, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said that Mr. Trump “wants to see the integrity of our elections system upheld.”
In separate interviews, five of the defendants in Alamance County said their votes were an unwitting mistake — a product of not understanding the voter forms they signed and not knowing the law.
The case began after North Carolina elections officials ran an audit that found 441 felons had voted improperly in the 2016 election. While most local prosecutors did not pursue these cases, Mr. Nadolski decided to file felony charges.
“We want to maintain the integrity of the voting system,” Mr. Nadolski said.
Most of the voters did not know one another before the prosecution, but as they attended court together and as their story spread through this conservative county, people started referring to them as one: the Alamance 12.
Activists have protested outside the county courthouse and asked supporters to flood the district attorney’s office with letters and phone calls on the defendants’ behalf.
Whitney Brown, 32, said that no judge, lawyer or probation officer ever told her that she had temporarily lost her right to vote after she pleaded guilty to a 2014 charge of writing bad checks. Her sentence did not include prison time.
By November 2016, she was complying with her probation and focused on moving ahead with her life, caring for her two sons, who are now 6 and 9 years old, and taking online classes to become a medical receptionist. So when her mother invited her to come with her to vote for president, Ms. Brown said she did so without a second thought.
Months later, she got a letter from state election officials telling her she appeared to have voted illegally. “My heart dropped,” she said. SOURCE: New York Times
Should formerly incarcerated people be allowed to vote?
CCJR believes that when you serve your time and are released back into society, work and pay taxes you should have the right and responsibility to vote. Society expects people formally incarcerated to renter the community and become a productive member - voting should be part of the process.
In New Hampshire Felons that are incarcerated cannot vote. However, the right to vote is automatically restored once the person leaves prison and re-registers in their precinct. Even those who are on probation or parole can vote. In New Hampshire, you are considered eligible to vote if they are at least 18 years old by the election date. Thank you New Hampshire.
Voter registration: To vote in New Hampshire, one must be a New Hampshire resident and United States citizen who will be at least 18 years old on the day of the next election. One may register with the town or city clerk's office or with the community's supervisor of the checklist.