By Dave Abel
December 13, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
Studies have found one of the most effective ways to prepare incarcerated Americans for success upon release, and reduce the likelihood that they reoffend, is to help them maintain connection to their friends, families and communities while behind bars. But the cost of those connections has become unreasonably and unsustainably high, as everyone from Business Insider to The Washington Post have recently decried.
As head of one of the nation’s largest prison telecommunications providers, I agree with those critics. My company, Securus Technologies, is uniquely positioned to address this problem, and since I became CEO two years ago, we have begun to take the necessary steps to help get it done.
We are executing a comprehensive program to transform our company and our industry. Some critical reforms are under our control, while others are controlled by federal and state lawmakers, regulators and prison and jail operators, but we are in a position to influence the outcome.
We are committed to exerting that influence and control to make phone calls more affordable and accessible, to correct past failures by the company and the industry and to provide innovative new technology products and services that will benefit the incarcerated and reduce recidivism.
The improvements are significant, but we have a long way to go.
Earlier this year, we successfully reduced the average cost of calls to approximately $0.13 per minute, down from an already reduced rate of $0.15 per minute in 2020. More than 50 percent of calls in our network today cost less than $1 and we are on track to achieve our three-year goal for average pricing a year early.
We subsequently collaborated with the Federal Communications Commission to provide unprecedented transparency to our cost data and under their new regulation no call on the system will cost more than $0.21 a minute bringing additional savings. During the COVID-19 crisis we’ve also provided more than 95 million free connections, and we have been working with a number of facilities to implement free access programs so that no one is denied the ability to connect due to cost alone.
Many contracts still require us to collect site commissions and pass the proceeds on to the prison and jail operators. These commissions supplement the budgets of prison and jail operators, but that also results in higher pricing to consumers — incarcerated individuals and their loved ones who can least afford it.
We are the first in our industry to state that commissions should be reduced and ultimately eliminated, and we are offering commission-free pricing options to every agency customer — but so far, the uptake on that offer has been slow.
To be clear, the technology that can be safely deployed in prisons carries a higher cost structure than commercial telephone service. Telephone and e-messaging systems inside a corrections environment must be equipped with complex security software that helps correctional officers detect if someone is harassing a victim, planning activities inside the walls that violate rules or safety protocols or coordinating activity outside the walls that violates rules or safety protocols or violates the law.
But Securus is working hard to provide the most cost-efficient, affordable technology services to incarcerated consumers and correctional customers — and to assist those agencies who are at the leading edge of transitioning to a free-to-consumers calling model.
In New York City, Securus has already helped the Department of Corrections transition to a pricing model in which all telecommunications charges are paid by the city. With that experience, we currently offer an agency-paid pricing model to every jurisdiction that is considering a similar transition.
More broadly, we are taking important steps to cooperate and collaborate with lawmakers and regulators on meaningful industry reform, abandoning the ill-conceived adversarial approach of the past, investing directly in new technology at jail and prison sites and expanding technology-driven services that will benefit the incarcerated and reduce recidivism.
For example, we invest over $50 million per year to bring technology and broadband infrastructure to facilities — and within just the last six months, we’ve spent over $45 million to deploy tablet technology that can be accessed by every incarcerated individual. We have already deployed 425,000 digital tablets around the country and set a goal of putting a tablet in the hands of every incarcerated American.
These tablets are key not only as a communications tool, but also as a means of offering educational resources that will help individuals get a GED or college degree, job training and other programming that will help prepare for successful re-entry upon release and books, movies and television programs that help them use their time in safe and productive ways. To date, over 600 individuals have earned their college degree while incarcerated using our tablet technology.
We know we have more work to do, and we will continue to drive change in our industry. We look forward to working cooperatively with regulators, legislators, agency customers and incarcerated consumers to find solutions. And we expect to continue to be held accountable to our promises. These are important community issues that will be solved only by a shared commitment to improvement and reform.
Dave Abel is CEO of Aventiv Technologies, parent company of correctional telecommunication business Securus.
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