It was Marquis De Sade who brilliantly observed, “The knavery of the rich justifies the thievery of the poor.” You will not find a better example of this statement than what exists in the Florida state prison system. It is not enough that unscrupulous money-hungry leeches have commercialized our penal institutions by seeking to privatize the prisons but, bit by bit, and without public outcry, they are gnawing away at every other source of prison-related income.
There are possibly more but I will name only the three most obvious:
• Corrilink: This is a commercialized email system that exploits inmates and their families. On the pretext of providing a great social service, Corrilink charges exorbitant fees. It seems to me that if the prison system were in favor of inmates corresponding via email, it would be decidedly cheaper to provide Department of Correction computers and permit usage at a non-inflated rate.
It is my understanding that the inmates pay both to send and receive a message. The rates vary from five to 30 cents a message. If the institution decides not to let an inmate send or receive the message, the pay is not refunded. Pure and simple exploitation.
• Prison telephone calls: Until the Federal Communications Commission finally acquiesced to the bombardment of complaints a few months ago, these prison-contracted phone companies were charging inmates and their family as much a $1 per minute plus a $3.95 connection charge.
The new rate is 25 cents per minute, still very much inflated, and the connection charge has remained unchanged. (Compare this to the six cents per minute to call Mexico and four cents a minute to call Argentina using commercial carriers. There are other international calls that cost as little as one cent per minute and there is no connection fee.) Pure and simple exploitation.
• JPay: Until a month ago, sending money to an inmate was a tedious process but relatively inexpensive. That has now changed – except for the tedious part. JPay is a Miami based company that has cornered the prison money-sending market.
JPay has an online pay system that charges $5 to send $5, meaning that if a relative can afford only to send $5, he or she must send $10, of which $5 will go to JPay and 50 cents to the Department of Corrections; only $4.50 will be given to the inmate. When I complained about this to the Department of Corrections, I was told that money could still be sent the traditional way using a deposit slip. But the department no longer issues the deposit slips and suggested that I get one from JPay.
It is not to Jpay’s financial advantage to issue deposit slips and it refers the callers to its website. I could not find a link on the website from which to download a deposit slip. It must be there somewhere but it is not easily accessible. Pure and simple exploitation.
It is not to the Department of Corrections’ advantage to seek out a more reasonable means of privatizing its services. It is my understanding that the department gets a healthy “concession fee” when contracting out these services and, therefore, is not as interested in fairness to the consumers as it is in increasing its own revenue.
When individual government officials get such a fee, it is referred to as an illegal kickback for which a prison sentence is in order. It seems to me that social justice requires that a similar deterrent be imposed on governmental agencies – and especially one whose mandate is to assist in meting out justice.
In spite of our often touted Judeo-Christian Ethic, we remain unmoved by the reality that “the poor pay more.”
*Gilbert L. Raiford is a retired social worker who has had a long career in teaching and working for the U.S. Department of State. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org