OP-ED: Time to lower phone rates to call prisoners in America


Pending further instructions from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Aventiv CEO Dave Abel said the company continues to look for other ways to help connect the incarcerated community to the outside world. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

They brought in a number of outside advisers, including lawyer and entrepreneur Yusef Jackson, who earlier this year joined the management team of Aventiv, Securus’ parent company. Aventiv announced in April 2021 that Jackson, the son of Rainbow / PUSH founder Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, would help lower the prices of calls and other services for inmates as Aventiv worked to change some of its business practices and respond to industry criticism.

Through Dr Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., President and CEO, National Association of Newspaper Publishers

The disproportionate mass incarceration of people of color in America continues. Calls for prison reform include proposals to reduce telephone rates for prisons across the United States. This would benefit African Americans and other communities of color whose family members are currently incarcerated.

Companies that provide communication services to prisons and prisons have long been criticized for charging high prices for phone calls and emails between inmates and their families and friends. I’ve written before about one of these companies – Securus Technologies – which in January 2020 did something seldom seen in corporate America, acknowledging past failures and making specific commitments to do better.

So what has the company done over the past year to keep its promises?

They brought in a number of outside advisers, including lawyer and entrepreneur Yusef Jackson, who earlier this year joined the management team of Aventiv, Securus’ parent company. Aventiv announced in April 2021 that Jackson, the son of Rainbow / PUSH founder Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, would help lower the prices of calls and other services for inmates as Aventiv worked to change some of its business practices and respond to industry criticism.

The company also says it has renegotiated contracts with more than 100 penitentiaries to reduce the cost of calls, and more than 50% of their calls now cost less than $ 1. During the pandemic, they also provided free calls, emails and video chats – over 95 million in total.

According to Dave Abel, CEO of Aventiv, the next big step in their efforts to cut costs is to expand a program that allows friends and family of inmates to subscribe to a monthly calling plan that charges a fee. flat rate as an alternative to pay per minute to talk. time. Securus announced a pilot program last year, which has since expanded to nine facilities across the United States

At nine of the prisons, more than a third of calls were made under the subscription plan, and the plan reduced the cost of calls per minute by more than 50%, according to data shared by Securus. Data from the company also showed that under the subscription plan, users were using 75 percent of the maximum call time offered by the facilities, which was a 15 percent increase over calls to the home. minute.

And in an initial customer survey, 80% of subscribers said they thought the service was easier to use, and 70% would recommend a subscription plan to family and friends.

Securus is currently working to expand the program to all of its facilities, but would require approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which currently only allows per-minute phone plans. Securus has requested a waiver that would exempt the pilot subscription plan from the FCC’s rules on call-per-minute requirements, allowing them to provide subscriptions in jails and prisons in all 50 states.

This could ultimately have a big impact: There are more than 2 million Americans incarcerated in thousands of institutions across the country.

“Now that we’ve seen the positive impact of these subscription plans, we know we need to make them available to as many people as possible,” said Abel. “We are working with the FCC to modernize the regulations to allow for this type of cost reduction program, while ensuring that strong consumer protections are still in place. “

However, some proponents and critics of prison reform have always questioned Securus’ intentions with the subscription.

Everything Securus does “is designed to… rip off the consumer and maximize profits,” said Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Center, according to Communications Daily. Others criticized the level of detail Securus offered with Prison Policy Initiative general counsel Stephen Raher, saying the company’s petition to the FCC “does not suggest that Securus is serious about it.”

Abel, however, claims the company has provided numerous details to the FCC and maintains that any misgivings regarding the program are wrong.

“We started this program in response to specific requests we received from family and friends of incarcerated Americans,” he said. “Now that we have the data showing us that this is something the community values, we believe we have a duty to expand these services.”

Pending further instructions from the FCC, Abel said the company continues to seek other ways to help connect the incarcerated community to the outside world.

“Those who are incarcerated deserve affordable access to life-changing technology that the rest of us enjoy,” he said. “Our goal is to put a tablet in the hands of every incarcerated person we serve. “

Dr Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and executive / host producer of The Chavis Chronicles (TCC) on PBS TV stations across the country and may be contacted at dr.bchavis @ nnpa.org.


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