Arkansas DOC to implement Securus video visits
by Bernadette Rabuy, April 15, 2015
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.”
But according to the DOC’s Frye, Securus does not market its video system as a supplement for families who have difficulty visiting in-person. While the video visitation industry often claims that correctional facilities alone decide to limit in-person visits, the language in Securus’s contracts suggested otherwise, and Frye has now confirmed our fears:
“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.