Jails are replacing family visits with video chat

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/04/08/jails-are-replacing-family-vis.html


Paging ACLU…seems like a clear-cut violation of the 8th Amendment.


In my opinion, they buried the lede.

I picture a time when a prisoner’s loved ones have to keep the air to their cell flowing through micro-transactions. Prisoners will be like Tamagotchis. Jailliegotchas?

“The advantages of an air-proof cell is that it’s impossible to sneak contraband in, and less chance of the prisoner getting up to no good, since any extraneous movement will be limited so the prisoners don’t deplete their oxygen too fast. Oh, and it will also directly generate revenue for jails.


In the larger jails in the state of Kansas (whose new governor has recently declared a state of emergency about the serious overcrowding and jailed drug cases issues), these are free if you come down to the physical location of the jail; there is a lobby in most of them that has a bank of monitors for visitors to use. If using the video chat app, however, 30 minutes costs you about 15 dollars. However, I believe that Kansas generally uses the Securus system- it has other problems, but at least charging for people showing up for a visit like they would ordinarily do anyway doesn’t seem to be one of them. Most of the smaller jails here still use the staticky phone and chicken-wire glass setup, however.


Not surprised about the jail overpopulation. Parts of western Kansas live and die by the prison population. I was working for one company that way and the largest employer was the local prison. It’s shocking how many folks there were for minimum sentencing and the like.


Stockton or Norton, maybe? I know Norton is a massive whopping facility. El Dorado is atrocious (and one of the main offenders in the SoE by Governor Kelly)- a full-on riot last year, several escape attempts and a general air of farming federal grant money out impoverished meth-addicts has taken a toll to the point that they’re considering taking it down. I do know that they’re building additions to Lansing and possibly putting in another prison in SW Kansas as well, so that “inmates for cash” mentality doesn’t seem to be going away.

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I was in Norton, it’s pretty depressing when the largest social gathering spot was the new (at the time) Dairy Queen.


Oh yeah. I spent a chunk of my early childhood in WaKeeney… our big hot-spot was either the Pizza Hut or the kinda bad restaurant of a local hotel near the KOA. It was a red-letter day when Hays got a coffee shop that sold some of them new-fangled cuppakinos.


Reminiscent of the folks expected to work overtime every night, who put their children to bed over Facetime.


It is disgraceful that the United States allows profits to be earned by exploiting incarcerated individuals. It’s also immoral, unethical, and should be illegal.

Incarceration should cost government, should cost our society, as much as it possibly can so that our judicial system will use incarceration…judiciously, and give serious consideration and investment into alternatives that are not dehumanizing.


I came here to say that something will go wrong as soon as companies can profit from prisoners. I think you put it better.


they’ve been using the video chats in my local county jail for at least 4 years. fortunately the county provides that as a free “service.”


Prisons like not having to deal with transporting dangerous inmates to visitation areas and it means all communication is recorded. It’s easier for the staff…

Finally, they’ve figured out a way to make money off prisoners. /s


Let’s talk about prison commissaries. Ever hear of a company called Keefe? Probably not, unless you’ve been incarcerated. Do some digging into the pricing for the products they provide. How about instant ramen noodles, which cost anywhere between ten and thirty cents per package, depending on sale prices? Does $0.50 per package sound usurious? Of course it does. Here is a link describing the basics of federal prison commissaries. It’s pretty accurate. You can also search on “federal prison commissary list” to view pdf’s of lists of items available at various institutions. Be careful to note size/quantity of each item. That spam? It’s for a single-serve slice in a foil packet.

Oh, and remember that federal prison wages start at $0.12/hour and that the vast majority of federal inmates are paid that very rate. For six-hour days. Not including lost time due to lockdowns, etc. That means that the families of prisoners have to send them money if they’re to be able to purchase OTC medications, personal hygiene products, let alone supplemental food items or things like stamps to be able to send letters home.

And don’t get me started on the prices of vending machine products available in the visitation areas. Unless you think $4 for a semi-stale ham and cheese (one slice each) sandwich on plain white bread, no condiments is a bargain. But you know what? For that inmate who has been eating boiled cabbage, sausages of questionable provenance, and whose fresh vegetable intake is limited to iceberg lettuce “salad” every day, it is a bargain because it’s something different to eat in the company of one’s friends or family.

And companies like Keefe make mad profits from that exploitation while the federal government condones it.

I’m a patriot, I served my country, and I’m proud of it but that doesn’t mean I love everything about it.

(Disclosure: Yes, I served time in a federal prison. I know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, you do not. You have an opinion, that’s fine, we can debate, but, respectfully, you don’t know what you’re talking about.)


Your first assertion is just absurd. You know what happens to inmates who act out going to/coming back from visits, or while at them? They lose their visitation rights. Permanently. Huge, huge incentive to behave. Does it happen? I suppose. Should convenience be an excuse to prevent human beings from interacting personally with their loved ones? Maybe? In some specific instances? Perhaps?

As a matter of policy. Obviously not.

You know what else is recorded? Every interaction within a visiting room. There are numerous guards observing everyone. There are video cameras monitored by other guards. Everyone, including visitors, is in an effective state of lockdown where any suspicious behavior can be immediately addressed.

You know what? Find a church or volunteer organization that does prison visitations. Sign up, get that background check, go on four or five visits, then get back to us and tell us how wrong you were.

Because you are.


Thank you for this.

I am grateful you are here, now. We need to hear from you and–seriously–the many like you who have firsthand experience to share about the many and completely underreported aspects of the U.S. prison-industrial complex.

(warning: the graphs in this wiki entry are super depressing)


Thank you for keepin’ it real.
I’ve had friends in and out of the joint(s) but none federal.
Keep breathing, and please take good care.



Fuck this shit.

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Prey on the weakest and most defenseless. It’s the American Way! This makes me sick.


my son has been in state prisons in texas three times. most of our visits with him have been cantact visits where we have nothing but a table between us and can give him a handshake or a hug at the start and end of our visits. occasionally we’ve gone to see him while he was still at a transfer unit and that was behind glass. so far none of the state units have gone to the video phones but all of the county jails we’ve seen him at have gone to them over the past 5 years.

commissary is truly a racket. although the most egregious example of that was when he was in a private prison unit. the chow hall provided small portions of bland, monotonous, and mediocre food meanwhile the commissary was much more expensive than at the state-run units. for comparison at the private unit 7 years ago a bag of 10 small flour tortillas was $4.50. at the state-run unit he’s currently in the same bag costs $2.

as far as inmates causing problems at visitation, i can say from my own experiences of visiting our son dozens of times at 5 different state prisons over the past 10 years that i have never personally witnessed nor heard about from my son a single instance of that happening. visitation is just too important for the vast majority of inmates to even think about doing anything to fuck it up.