Prison Visits Being Replaced with Video Calls in the US – Violation of Human and Legal Rights?
The visiting facility available to prison inmates is probably one ‘normal’ thing about their new life. They get to talk to their friends and family, even if it’s across a glass window. This is the part that most look forward to and this is the part that one can say gives them hope and faith that things will get better for them soon enough. What if this opportunity is taken away from them? What will happen then? What if this almost physical interaction that gives them hope is snatched away for good?
Prison problems - High cost of meeting family and friends
Recently, in-person visits are no longer allowed in some of the American prisons. Like many other things in today’s world, the visitation is being digitalized. Apparently, all visits must be done by video using a smartphone, computer or an offsite location. It sounds nice, right? Talk to your loved ones without leaving your home. This new facility by Securus Technology is no doubt very tempting and sounds easy and appealing. But things aren’t so simple.
It seems that this video ‘visit’ will cost people $12.99 for 20 minutes! In-person visits were free, so why the hassle. One may argue that this will save time of travel, costs of travel etc.; but if you have ever tried talking to your loved ones via Skype, then you know what sort of complications you are faced with. The video is often distorted, the connection is often unstable and it would be more hassle than ease to talk to your loved ones. Another question that is being raised is that, isn’t stopping these visits a violation of human and legal rights? Having an ‘almost’ physical interaction with your loved ones is a way of humanizing the inmates and preventing this would dehumanize them.
Norris Henderson, who spent 28 years in prison for murder and is now the founder and executive director of Voice of the Ex-offender said, “We should be moving toward more human contact and people connecting with other people, not less. When you move away from that, it is easy to dehumanize.”
In Texas and California, a very recent law requires that the in-person visitations should be maintained. American Bar Association and American Correctional Association have published guidelines that say that these video chats should be in addition to the in-person visits. The supreme court has, however, not yet given any weight to the entire video visitation question.
Really a need or just revenue generation?
According to the Securus program supporters, this step is due to security concerns. The chief security concern is contraband and the prison security is trying to prevent this. The issue maybe real but there is a huge cost of disallowing the visits. The cost is in the form of emotional and psychological cost of the prisoners. Advocates are arguing that the face-to-face visits, even if they are through 6 inches of glass, are critical to the emotional well-being of the inmates.
Another question that we want to ask is that if it’s just about ease and security, then why is there such a huge amount being charged for just 20 minutes? What is the real agenda behind this? The prison phone system is a $1.2 billion per annum industry and is currently dominated by players like Securus. According to the company, it is serving approximately 1.2 million prisoners in North America.
This new service is just another source of revenue and we do not know how this $12.99 for 20 minutes is broken down into costs. It is expected that there is a 20% commission per call.
What do you think about this?