We are very excited to introduce the newest member of the Prison Policy Initiative board: Jason Stanley. Jason Stanley is a Professor of Philosophy at Yale and an author of four books. His fourth book, How Propaganda Works, will be coming out this May. Check out the interview below to learn why Jason joined the board:
Why did you decide to join the PPI board?
Jason Stanley: During my research for my book over the past several years, I was astonished at the number of complicated ways in which mass incarceration is embedded into the moral, political, and economic life of our country. I decided I wanted to get involved, and went looking for an effective organization that untied the complex knots for me. I started from scratch, looking at a number of organizations, local and national. I chose PPI for many reasons. My research suggested that they are the organization that does the most with the least; they are incredibly effective, and they need funders.
I had no personal connections with them, but I reached out and asked how I could help. There has been a 500% increase in my lifetime in the US prison population. My view is that this is an issue where my generation has some moral responsibility in causing the problem, and maybe we can get together and contribute to trying to solve it.
I’ve done the research to find this organization — I really started with a lot of potential ones, and ended up with PPI. This is a great organization that really puts donations to effective use.
What do you think is most unique about the Prison Policy Initiative and the projects it takes on?
JS: First, as academics can appreciate, they are drawn to the complexities of mass incarceration, rather than the obvious stuff that draws funding. For example, PPI is the nation’s leader on prison gerrymandering, which incentivizes rural communities with few residents to bid for prisons and push for harsher sentencing; they regularly uncover and litigate the most devious ways in which the impoverished prison population is used as source of cash for the unscrupulous; and they have become perhaps the central source for online information about mass incarceration.
Second, because they are drawn to the ignored complexities, they are unafraid to go after wildly popular policies, such as school drug zone laws, that in fact function as mechanisms to allow prosecutors to indiscriminately sentence residents of dense urban centers with extremely harsh sentences (I have heard that every place in New Haven except for somewhere on the Yale Golf course is in a school zone, defined here as ‘within 1500 feet of a school’).
While Jason just joined our board a few days ago, he’s already been hard at work to support PPI. Jason is generously donating royalties from the sales of his upcoming book How Propaganda Works to PPI and on Monday, May 11, 2015 we’ll be holding a book launch party in Harlem, New York. Ticket sales will also support PPI’s work. We hope that you’ll consider joining us! For more information and tickets, visit: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/stanley/
According to an article published yesterday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Arkansas Department of Correction has approved a contract with Securus Technologies. You might remember Securus as it’s one of the private companies that dominates the prison phone industry and leads the for-profit video visitation industry.
While Arkansas will not be the first state to adopt video visitation, it is the first state that we know of to contract with Securus for video visitation services. Our January 2015 report on the video visitation industry found that most states that have large video visitation programs contract with JPay.
In addition to leading the video visitation industry, Securus’s video visitation contracts are unique because they often explicitly require the elimination of in-person family visits. Thankfully, the Arkansas Department of Correction will be implementing Securus video visitation as a supplement and not a replacement. DOC spokesman Cathy Frye told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “We do not, however, want it to become a replacement for face-to-face visits.”
“We agreed to the cut in audio commissions and to forgo the video commissions because the other option would have been to strongly push inmates into using video visitation instead receiving in-person visits from their families,” Frye said.
“Because this is such new technology, many of the companies providing it are pressuring correctional facilities to strongly encourage video visitation. That’s what you’re seeing at some of the county jails around the state. Those facilities have either limited or cut off in-person visitation entirely to ensure that the video-visitation venture can support itself, bring in revenue, or both.
Frye’s comments are telling. They confirm that private companies are setting correctional visitation policies and that the motive for banning in-person visits is money, not safety.
In other breaking news: Securus is acquiring JPay, which leads the market for sending money into prisons and, as I mentioned earlier, provides video visitation in state prisons. We’re not sure how exactly this will change JPay, but we are concerned. Will JPay raise the prices of its video visits from its typical rate of $0.33/min to Securus’s typical rate of $1/min? Will getting refunds from unsuccessful JPay video visits still be possible or will it follow in Securus’s footsteps in providing a customer service experience so frustrating that families give up on refunds? We will be developing a response strategy so stay tuned!
And if you’re in Arkansas, Arkansas Voices for the Left Behind will be holding its 21st annual event at the State Capitol Rotunda on Friday, May 8 at 11am, in which it will launch a campaign: “Erase the Stigma. Stop the Hurting and Begin the Healing for Children of Prisoners.” The Arkansas DOC video contract will be one of the topics discussed at the event.