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Visitation and profit at the Mecklenburg County Jail

If you haven’t yet, you need to go read this column by Toussaint Romaine in the Charlotte Observer. The Mecklenburg assistant public defender takes on the big business of visitation at the county jail.

From the piece:

Global Tel Link (GTL), a billion-dollar company, is working with the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office to exploit poor people for profit. Here’s how it works: GTL contracted its service with the Sheriff’s Office to provide online jail video visitation services. Once GTL installed the new equipment, the Sheriff’s Office terminated other forms of visitation. GTL was then left with a monopoly on how inmates communicate with loved ones.

To no one’s surprise, GTL also sets outrageous prices. After a free first “virtual visit,” one video visitation costs $12.50. That’s a lot of money. Especially when GTL uses platforms like Facetime and Skype, which are almost free. Consequently, those in jail (and their families) end up paying for services that they cannot afford.

But what’s the alternative? Not speaking to your loved ones in a moment of crisis?

Advocates for this technology say it increases jail efficiency, eliminates contraband and enhances visitor convenience. I don’t buy it. I have been visiting clients in the Mecklenburg County Jail for the past 10 years. What those advocates say and what I see are two different things.

I see the money. It’s only about the money. If it isn’t, then take away the profit incentive and see if those corporations stick around.

Still, I know who it hurts. During a jail tour last year, I learned that women are less likely to receive financial support from their family or friends. Sadly, the high price tag associated with this new video visitation exacerbates the anxiety felt in the jail as these women desperately try to call home so that they can hear their child’s voice. This happened a lot during the recent holiday season.

It is worth your time to read the whole thing.

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