This is literally companies causing harm (and not just economic) harm to societies citizens at large. I respect jlafon's point of view but I can't agree. The fact that a system you create is difficult to adminster should not mean that the cost of dealing with it should be passed along to your 'customers' (gagging as I use that word). When a group of people chooses to put others in a position of limited power they have a responsibility to protect them from harm. Treating prisoners as a revenue stream at all is immoral and I believe unconstitutional. The argument that they should pay or do anything to contribute to their imprisonment is vapid and ugly. If we aren't willing to shoulder the burden of imprisoning them then we shouldn't do it. We absolutely should not be charging them or their families usury amounts of money to satisfy rules and situations we created.
Letting prisoners use the phone is labor intensive? Why? because you created rules and a system where it is. To spin it as more complicated or containing 'reasons' is post hoc justification nonsense and should be treated as such.
 Summarized here: https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2014/apr/15/lowering-re...
I agree that it's immoral, but it's explicitly, unambiguously Constitutional.
1) The system we are discussing more directly punishes the families of those convicted by crimes. That is manifestly unconstitutional on several levels including as it furthers not substantive government interest and restricts both the rights of non-prisoners and prisoners. [1a]. The courts have gone out of their way to uphold the rights of non-prisoners to communicate with prisoners [1b] which this effects.
2) Prisoners are already a protected class in research, specifically because they are not fully able to make uncoerced and voluntary decisions. The industry we are discussing is not beholden to the standards of IRB, but the prisons are still held to a minimal standard of duty of care. [e.g., 2] Allowing them to be monetized at the expense of all evidence of their rehabilitation, care, and well being would not seem to be a reasonable or sincere attempt to meet that standard. If not for 30 years of jurisprudence that treats prisoners as an annoyance
3) The slavery that the reading of the 13th amendment you reference is built around comes from the late 1800's. It referenced prison systems where the prisons were almost entirely self-sufficient based on inmate labor.  To use the language of the courts, prisoners were 'slaves of the state' in deference to their participation in this system. That does not mean they have entirely given up their rights [e.g., to free speech [1a,b]], but rather that they are significantly restricted. The prison phone scams and associated employment for private gain in prisons have nothing to do with slavery to the state so as to support the costs of the prison system. Rather this modern 13th amendment slavery to benefit private entities should be treated as unsettled (mostly because the courts defer in an almost unfathomable fashion to corrections departments) or a very troubling new reading of the 13th amendment.
Doubtful. The Constitution makes it clear that slavery is illegal... Except in the case of prisoners.
If you can subject prisoners to forced labor, gouging them on phone calls seems a small step.
And to the prisoners' families -- it's most especially cruel.
† Okay, the calls need monitoring, which increases the cost somewhat. But not by much, and not nearly in proportion to the rates they're currently being gouged for, in some states.
There is an honest question as to whether they do in all cases. How is listening to the phone calls of someone in prison for shoplifting or drunk driving not a complete waste of resources?
But what problem are you identifying that doesn't already exist via mob attorneys?
I feel that there's a difference between slavery as punishment (i.e. being explicitly sentenced to slavery) vs. slavery incidental to punishment (i.e. being explicitly sentenced to imprisonment, and then the private prison deciding to enslave you during your sentence).
And yes, this has absolutely been interpreted in this way. Unpaid, or grossly underpaid prison labour is extremely common in the US.
see my other post
This is not 'settled' as much as it has been ignored by the courts.
I think the system is screwed, don't get me wrong, but the reference may be attributing a surface level effect (allowed to make calls) to a more latent thing (already have decent integration with family and society).
>For example, one female attorney said she was told by prison officials that she could not visit a prisoner because her underwire bra set off the metal detector. After leaving, removing her bra and then returning, she was told she could not visit because she wasn’t wearing a bra.
The possibility for latent effects obviously exists, but there are actions taken by the prisons that can only be seen as attempts to reduce contact, which we can see has a negative impact. Whether its a formative or reflective latent doesn't seem like something that should be a driving factor in decisions here to me.
If you'd rather blame for-profit prisons, think about this. How far removed are we from lynchings, throwing black people into jail on zero evidence, etc? There were no for-profit prisons when states were systematically abusing the rights of the accused--particularly minorities, just 40-50 years ago.
Still, you are overstating the impact of "the will of the people." We live in a well-managed system where "representation" is mostly bought, then legitimized by voting among two bought choices.
As for three strikes, drug possession was one of the top offenses for which it is applied.
"Possession of controlled substances alone made up 12 percent of the state’s [CA] total three strikes population at the time — drug crimes in general accounted for 23 percent."
Your California stats are misleading. First, you said that drugs are responsible for the "majority" of our prison ills, but your chart shows that 77% of people sentenced for a second or third strike are for property or personal crimes, or gun possession.
Second, California is unusual in that the third strike can be anything (first two must be violent felonies). So people are in for drug possession, but also for other minor things like larceny. In most states, drug possession doesn't trigger the three strikes rule at all.
In any case, three strikes rules weren't created because of the drug war, even in California. It was a response to a guy who murdered a girl. And note that in several states, these rules passed by public referendum with huge margins less than 25 years ago.
No, not since the passage of Proposition 36 in 2012: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-strikes_law (see "California")
But fundamentally the three strikes rule is a bigger issue there than the drug possession charges themselves, the three strikes remove all judicial flexibility and agency.
That's why this story is so important, and incredible: that one of the weakest of us fought a petty injustice, (that is in aggregate is a great injustice), and won. That's positive; but it should make us wonder what other petty injustices are being foisted on the weak. And what other policy changes are being made to weaken the targets.
Disclaimer: I work for a startup that provides low-cost banking services to the poor. http://www.onefinancialholdings.com/bee/
Is there something I'm missing that's different? Only thing I can tell is that Bee allows two free ATM withdrawals a month.
Bee makes it (nearly) impossible to put the account into a negative balance, and has no concept of an overdraft fee.
Another big win is mobile check deposit. Customers can deposit checks with instant availability for a 1% fee or use standard clearing for free; this is substantially cheaper than check cashers.
Simple has ATMs you can use for free which are pretty common which covers that and also has no overdraft fees (or concept of overdraft really).
Simple has no monthly fee though which is a point in its favor - it also lets you do most of the same thing (lock cards, mail a check etc.).
I agree, except you should replace "criminals" with prisoners or inmates. There is a difference, not all prison inmates are criminals and not all criminals are in prison.
(1) There is a lobby with a lot to gain, and therefore an intense incentive to lobby for it.
(2) For most citizens, prisoners are at best "out of sight, out of mind", and at worst a subject of negative emotional attachment, so harms to them are either discounted or even seen as deserved.
(3) For the citizens directly harmed, they are already disenfranchised.
OTOH, the central feature of both real-world capitalism and the more utopian "free market" idealized form is government establishment and protection of property rights, which are precisely government-granted monopolies.
That's just equivocating two meanings of the same word though. A title to real estate is a "monopoly" over a piece of land, but it isn't inherently a "monopoly" in the sense that you have no competitors. If you own an apartment building but someone else owns a similar one across the street from you, you have competition. You don't own every apartment building. And it's only in the second sense that a monopoly would be problematic.
Which is hardly the common case for an individual piece of real estate. You don't even need perfect substitutes as long as the substitutes are close enough to prevent monopoly pricing.
> This is often the case with real property, and also with much intellectual property.
"Intellectual property" isn't normal property. It is a monopoly in the lack of competition sense. This is especially true for patents which much more rarely have good substitutes (since the same patent is written to cover them too), but is often the case with copyright as well, as with Microsoft. "Intellectual property" is basically worthless if there are many perfect substitutes because it's non-rivalrous. With real property increasing market share inherently requires increasing capital expenditures. A landlord willing to engage in aggressive price competition can't instantly saturate the market by providing 10,000 units to 10,000 tenants when they only own 10. If LibreOffice was a perfect substitute for MS Office then they could do exactly that.
This is why in markets like movies and music where there is good substitution possible, the markets tend toward cartels, because otherwise they would be extremely low margin commodity markets. Which is why those companies hate the internet -- it's interfering with their ability to hold the cartel together by reducing their control over distribution channels.
Capitalism doesn't need free markets, and many capitalists prefer not having them.
It's absolutely possible to be a jerk about correcting someone, but a simple dispassionate "I think you meant X instead of Y" can be helpful.
I thought you meant exactly what you said, and I meant exactly what I said, passion and all. Regardless of the community sanctions, I still mean it.
There was another link discussed here recently (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11648361) about how these exorbitant prison phone calls are being replaced with video calls- and ONLY video calls. In the linked article we have this quote: The alternative to high rates isn’t lower rates, the association has suggested — the alternative is that phone calls in jails will be done away with entirely. "Absent these commissions," association president Larry D. Amerson wrote in a comment to the FCC, "counties would need to either increase taxes for the system or jails could potentially cease to provide inmates with this service." So either continue to support this monopoly, or don't speak to or see your brother/cousin/mom in jail at all.
Here in New Jersey where I live, as of yesterday you can no longer visit an inmate in a couple of our prisons, in person. Instead, you can pay Securus for a video connection to the inmate you'd like to speak with. I think if more people who were not directly connected to the System via a friend, family member, or personal experience were aware of what's going on, they would be appalled. Instead we conveniently pretend this stuff isn't happening.
From the linked article: [Securus'] Smith defended his company’s profits on many of the same grounds other inmate phone companies do. The contracts, he says, are a source of funds for crucial corrections services like health care. "It’s really a public policy issue," Smith says. Securus also provides security services, recording calls sent through its system and intervening to break up any illegal plots that it detects. "We really feel like we perform kind of a noble service for society," he says.
What he's not saying is that local municipalities can also get a kickback from the money paid to contact prisoners. So not only does it fund healthcare within the prison system (which of course are also increasingly privatized, so how much of that money do you think can be claimed as profit by the company running the prison), but to fix potholes etc in the local town.. on paper, at least.
What I wish these stories left me with is what to do next. Who do I call, petition, or vote for to get this changed?
Mandate at least two providers at each prison and let them charge whatever they want. Let them race to the bottom so you get the same cheap voip rates the rest of the country has access to.
Oh and if they collude on pricing, throw the management in the same prison.
I bet they'd also start competing on the features the prison cares about too. Like tracking who's calling who, speech to text transcripts, and service levels.
Problem with this approach is that it doesn't allow for the cronyism that is ripe in this type of industry.
"AT&T was the exclusive service provider in the industry, and costs for inmates were comparable for similar services outside. But in the 1980s, an antitrust agreement pulled the Bell System apart. Meanwhile, America’s incarceration rate was booming, driven by the war on drugs and more stringent sentencing guidelines.
"With AT&T in pieces, upstart phone providers saw dollar signs in the bevy of new "customers" waiting to be served. First, other major telecommunications companies, such as MCI and Sprint, moved in. Then came the specialists — dedicated outfits, like Pay Tel Communications and Global TelLink, willing to appeal to the specific needs of the corrections industry. Providing communications to a literally captive audience was highly profitable, and as these companies grew, they popularized a new kind of contract with local governments. These agreements hinged on an idea formally known as the "site commission contract," though critics often describe them using another word: kickback."
"Free market" doesn't by itself sprinkle Magickal Pixiy Duste over all problems and make them go away. A guy wrote a long book about this once, and how unregulated laissez-faire markets tended strongly to special interests and plutonomy. He was named Smith, title is An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations*. Recommended reading.
I believe you meant "a free market".
Please let's stop equating "capitalism" with "free markets"; They are not one-in-the-same, and there are serious problems with the former.
> Mandate at least two providers at each prison and let them charge whatever they want. Let them race to the bottom so you get the same cheap voip rates the rest of the country has access to.
If you want market forces to work, just make the most profitable deals with phone providers. Let phone providers pay the prison to be able to sell their phones in the prison.
> If you give out monopolies, then this is what happens. Here's a simple idea to fix this: COMPETITION.
Monopolies aren't some market externality that only occur outside of capitalism (private ownership of the means of production).
Don't mean to split semantic hairs, but I just don't want to perpetuate the mainstream editorializing of "capitalism" into a buzz word meaning something akin to "for private corporations" and that privatization is always better for the market and society.
The video stuff nets money for the prison operator as and has other benefits. They pull the fiber to the prison in nowhere vile using erate funds for the "schools" in the prison.
I'm interested in seeing more about using erate funds to pull fiber and invest in other infrastructure, especially if it's then turned over to a private operator. Do you have any more info about who is doing this, and where?
With regards to cellphones though of course capitalism is the answer there.
As a former foster parent that was just trying to connect with the birth parents while they awaited trial, yeah those prices suck.
But hey, who cares about people accused of crimes, right? That's the American way.
Their stated reasoning is, drugs, or similar. Even though prisoners are already searched after the visitation, and guards are a common conduit for illegal drugs in jail.
The whole criminal justify industry in the US is sick. Seriously needs a top to bottom shakeup.
Too bad, because imho video-only visitation is a human rights abuse.
(I searched for "supreme court prisoner rights")
I'm not lampooning the religious right to a beard, I'm suggesting that the atmosphere in the courts may be better than you think.
I swear, if I had a dollar for every humorous freudian slip I saw on HN...
At $1/minute sorts of rates, it should be possible to pay several people to listen to a call.
Sounds like part of the solution is right there, at least in higher security prisons, which is to have the escort also monitor the call. Record all calls regardless and perform spot-audits so that any potential collusion between inmates, outsiders and escorts can be eliminated or minimized. A higher percentage of spot-audits should be carried out on repeat offenders and lower percentage on inmates associated with minor crimes - risk can be assessed with a couple of conditional equations. Advise inmates and staff of monitoring system to prevent collusion from forming in the first place.
Or just let illegal business be done. What's the worst that could happen. Lots of criminals outside of bars too.
Also you could let the non-violent ones do whatever and only watch the violent ones. It just depends on whether or not you have a problem solving attitude or a problem creating one. It seems the prison industrial complex creates problems and then spends lots of money to solve them, money of prisoner's families who are already broke and belong to low income households.
What's the worst that could happen? How about this: inmate arranges a contract on witnesses in his case.
Apple Siri has the ability to translate spoken word to text.
The point is that there is lots of technology that can do a first pass filter on phone calls.
It doesn't need to be manual.
Additionally, this is ignoring the reality that cell phones are smuggled into prisons as well. Any coordinated criminal activity doesn't need to use a land line that is monitored - just use a smuggled cell phone. ( http://fusion.net/story/41931/inside-the-prison-systems-illi... )
Like most things, it becomes a question of incentives not technology. To the prison it looks like:
You want me to pay lots of money to develop/purchase a system that will vastly reduce the overhead on my very expensive phone system and will probably make me have to charge less?
(And for private prisons)
This will reduce recidivism and therefor the number of repeat 'customers' coming to my facility?
Why not just limit duration?
The point is rather moot, considering that one of the main purposes of incarceration is incapacitation (effect of a sentence in positively preventing, rather than merely deterring, future offending).
I.e. you cannot steal, rob or kill because being monitored in prison prevents you from doing so. Lack of evidence therefore wouldn't make much of a justification for removing such monitoring because it could be argued just to show that the monitoring works.
However, without digging into statistics I would expect that there is more crime in prisons than outside (not because incapacitation wouldn't work at all, but because offenders are concentrated in prison).
There is substantial violence in prisons between inmates. (Not only in the US but everywhere).
This is not how a government should treat its people.
1. Local politicians "save money" by outsourcing management of prisons in their districts to private companies
2. Contracts awarded for services within these systems have kickbacks which direct money for services back to the municipalities
3. States award contracts to build new prisons in towns, who are told that jobs will be created for their towns, plus the aforementioned kickbacks
4. Now that the prisons are built, they have to be filled. So the local police departments get to work arresting people to fill them up. Judges, lawyers, sherrif's departments, etc justify their own existences by meeting arrest quotas, being "tough on crime," etc., get promoted up their respective ladders until they're in positions of power to keep the cycle going.
He was making a ton of money last I talked to him.
EDIT: VICE did a piece in 2014 on people getting locked up because they could not pay their parole fees. Yes, debtors' prison, where parolees pay (or not) for the privilege of freedom. https://news.vice.com/article/debtors-prisons-are-taking-the...
Rather than Thoreau's "quiet desperation", the masses instead seem bent toward lives of "clawing desperation".
Hell - give them a free WoW or LoL accounts and they may forget to come out of prison once their term is over.