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My Journey With Securus: Prison Phone Monopoly Punishes Loved Ones

Monday, 02 February 2015 11:43 By Jennifer Long, Truthout | Op-Ed
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Common phone area at the Robert N. Davoren Center, Riker's Island Detention Center, in New York. (Photo: Robert Stolarik/The New York Times) Common phone area at the Robert N. Davoren Center, Riker's Island Detention Center, in New York. (Photo: Robert Stolarik/The New York Times)

I use Securus because I have to. Each week, I add my hard-earned money to this monopoly of a prison phone company only because my love for an incarcerated person weighs more than my outrage over Securus' sky-high costs and fees and general terribleness. But make no mistake - I am angry about the extortion Securus exacts on unwitting, desperate clients.

My journey with Securus began in July 2014, when my boyfriend was sentenced and taken in by the Florida State Prison system. It was probably the most heartbreaking experience of my life, but that is another story entirely. Suffice to say, family members and loved ones who must use Securus' services are already emotionally and likely financially devastated.

Because I was the primary support for my boyfriend, I accepted his calls. Every time. And let me tell you, those minutes and charges piled up faster than I could have ever imagined. Simple silence between two lovers was no longer free, but billed at a hefty rate. The first three weeks of our separation by incarceration, I funneled exactly $344.75 into Securus' pockets. This includes the outrageous $6.95 "processing fee" I was charged each time I exercised the privilege of adding money into my prepaid account via a debit or credit card. Fees such as this are unacceptable at best and devastating at worst.

There is a real impact from such costly rates and fees imposed on vulnerable individuals and families. At this rate, I was paying more for accepting collect calls than for my rent. I chose to live without electricity at my apartment for a time and eat an inadequate diet so that I could be there for Matthew.

From personal experience, I can tell you that Securus drops calls. And not infrequently. In the past 10 days, I have had four calls dropped. Though Securus seems to be inconsistent with how they charge me for a given call, they do consistently charge me for calls that drop, even just seconds into the call. I called Securus to complain about this recently and to request a refund. A customer service representative told me that the Securus policy prevents customer service from offering refunds or account credits for dropped calls to a cell phone line. They justify this by saying that, when you are on a cell phone, anything could contribute to a dropped call.

This might make sense, except that, every time my call has been terminated early, I have received an automated message on the line telling me, "This call is being terminated. No third-party calls allowed." Customer service told me that this could be triggered by anything from an incoming text message to a "suspicious-sounding click" on the line. My last call was terminated after I turned up the call volume on my iPhone. Seems like Securus Technologies could greatly improve their technology in this area. But maybe charging for dropped calls and offering no refund is part of the business strategy. (Securus did tell me I could fill out a form and send it in, and someone would listen to recordings of my dropped calls to decide whether or not I should be refunded the charge. I can't believe that it is actually someone's job to review such calls. I'm guessing they bank on fed-up consumers not bothering to fill out a lengthy form and wait for a response. I can't say I'm too keen on it myself.)

Another recent issue is an ambiguous monthly "Fed Reg Recovery Fee" I noticed the other day while reviewing account charges. Because this fee is applied on a random day each month, it can unexpectedly send my already meager account balance into the negative and prevent incoming calls altogether (prisoners can only call those accounts with a positive balance). As I look back over my statements from the past seven months, there is also an unexplained $3.99 wireless admin fee. Are all these fees really necessary or in the best interest of the customer, who is probably already strapped for cash (given the fact that most families entrapped in the prison system are poor)? Or are they predatory?

It really boils down to this: Securus' focus is, of course, on corporate profits. They unashamedly invite prisons to jump on the profit wagon as well by including kickbacks in phone and video visitation contracts. I can click on the "Correctional Staff" tab of Securustech.net and find out how my prison can "begin earning revenue" by implementing video visitation. "Could budget shortfalls be resolved by creating a new revenue stream?" the website asks in an alluring manner. Well, prisons can and do make money this way, but at what cost? By further stripping families of their limited resources and limiting vital human contact? Research shows that Securus is promoting a terrible concept.

Securus also yields quite a bit of bad press for its profit-centered policies and allegedly illegal recordings.

I am a law-abiding, tax-paying, upstanding American who currently works in the education industry, investing in the lives of promising future leaders. Meanwhile, I am being penalized for the mere act of supporting an incarcerated loved one. I bear the financial and emotional burden of enormous costs and fees. I, and the millions of others like me, am worth a change to this system. Stop penalizing people for using their cell phones to receive calls; stop charging such high rates that families are forced to choose between buying food and supporting a husband, brother or son; and absolutely stop allowing profit-hungry Securus Technologies to eliminate in-person visitations at jails and prisons.

This for-profit corporation is directly harming millions of people, both inside and outside prison bars. Securus needs to be held seriously accountable for the real human lives their corporate policies impact.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Jennifer Long

Jennifer Long is an arts educator for the gifted and talented in Dallas, Texas. She believes music to be a healing and transformative modality, and channels this both in her teaching and her own life. Jennifer is also a writer and advocate for criminal justice reform. She is convinced that unashamedly speaking out about real issues is the only way to effect real change.


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My Journey With Securus: Prison Phone Monopoly Punishes Loved Ones

Monday, 02 February 2015 11:43 By Jennifer Long, Truthout | Op-Ed
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

Common phone area at the Robert N. Davoren Center, Riker's Island Detention Center, in New York. (Photo: Robert Stolarik/The New York Times) Common phone area at the Robert N. Davoren Center, Riker's Island Detention Center, in New York. (Photo: Robert Stolarik/The New York Times)

I use Securus because I have to. Each week, I add my hard-earned money to this monopoly of a prison phone company only because my love for an incarcerated person weighs more than my outrage over Securus' sky-high costs and fees and general terribleness. But make no mistake - I am angry about the extortion Securus exacts on unwitting, desperate clients.

My journey with Securus began in July 2014, when my boyfriend was sentenced and taken in by the Florida State Prison system. It was probably the most heartbreaking experience of my life, but that is another story entirely. Suffice to say, family members and loved ones who must use Securus' services are already emotionally and likely financially devastated.

Because I was the primary support for my boyfriend, I accepted his calls. Every time. And let me tell you, those minutes and charges piled up faster than I could have ever imagined. Simple silence between two lovers was no longer free, but billed at a hefty rate. The first three weeks of our separation by incarceration, I funneled exactly $344.75 into Securus' pockets. This includes the outrageous $6.95 "processing fee" I was charged each time I exercised the privilege of adding money into my prepaid account via a debit or credit card. Fees such as this are unacceptable at best and devastating at worst.

There is a real impact from such costly rates and fees imposed on vulnerable individuals and families. At this rate, I was paying more for accepting collect calls than for my rent. I chose to live without electricity at my apartment for a time and eat an inadequate diet so that I could be there for Matthew.

From personal experience, I can tell you that Securus drops calls. And not infrequently. In the past 10 days, I have had four calls dropped. Though Securus seems to be inconsistent with how they charge me for a given call, they do consistently charge me for calls that drop, even just seconds into the call. I called Securus to complain about this recently and to request a refund. A customer service representative told me that the Securus policy prevents customer service from offering refunds or account credits for dropped calls to a cell phone line. They justify this by saying that, when you are on a cell phone, anything could contribute to a dropped call.

This might make sense, except that, every time my call has been terminated early, I have received an automated message on the line telling me, "This call is being terminated. No third-party calls allowed." Customer service told me that this could be triggered by anything from an incoming text message to a "suspicious-sounding click" on the line. My last call was terminated after I turned up the call volume on my iPhone. Seems like Securus Technologies could greatly improve their technology in this area. But maybe charging for dropped calls and offering no refund is part of the business strategy. (Securus did tell me I could fill out a form and send it in, and someone would listen to recordings of my dropped calls to decide whether or not I should be refunded the charge. I can't believe that it is actually someone's job to review such calls. I'm guessing they bank on fed-up consumers not bothering to fill out a lengthy form and wait for a response. I can't say I'm too keen on it myself.)

Another recent issue is an ambiguous monthly "Fed Reg Recovery Fee" I noticed the other day while reviewing account charges. Because this fee is applied on a random day each month, it can unexpectedly send my already meager account balance into the negative and prevent incoming calls altogether (prisoners can only call those accounts with a positive balance). As I look back over my statements from the past seven months, there is also an unexplained $3.99 wireless admin fee. Are all these fees really necessary or in the best interest of the customer, who is probably already strapped for cash (given the fact that most families entrapped in the prison system are poor)? Or are they predatory?

It really boils down to this: Securus' focus is, of course, on corporate profits. They unashamedly invite prisons to jump on the profit wagon as well by including kickbacks in phone and video visitation contracts. I can click on the "Correctional Staff" tab of Securustech.net and find out how my prison can "begin earning revenue" by implementing video visitation. "Could budget shortfalls be resolved by creating a new revenue stream?" the website asks in an alluring manner. Well, prisons can and do make money this way, but at what cost? By further stripping families of their limited resources and limiting vital human contact? Research shows that Securus is promoting a terrible concept.

Securus also yields quite a bit of bad press for its profit-centered policies and allegedly illegal recordings.

I am a law-abiding, tax-paying, upstanding American who currently works in the education industry, investing in the lives of promising future leaders. Meanwhile, I am being penalized for the mere act of supporting an incarcerated loved one. I bear the financial and emotional burden of enormous costs and fees. I, and the millions of others like me, am worth a change to this system. Stop penalizing people for using their cell phones to receive calls; stop charging such high rates that families are forced to choose between buying food and supporting a husband, brother or son; and absolutely stop allowing profit-hungry Securus Technologies to eliminate in-person visitations at jails and prisons.

This for-profit corporation is directly harming millions of people, both inside and outside prison bars. Securus needs to be held seriously accountable for the real human lives their corporate policies impact.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Jennifer Long

Jennifer Long is an arts educator for the gifted and talented in Dallas, Texas. She believes music to be a healing and transformative modality, and channels this both in her teaching and her own life. Jennifer is also a writer and advocate for criminal justice reform. She is convinced that unashamedly speaking out about real issues is the only way to effect real change.


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