Florida prisons could be trading visits for fee-based multimedia kiosks

FILE - In this Oct. 3, 2012, file photo, Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies inspect a cell block at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. The largest sheriff's department in the U.S. uses unsound methods to compile data about violence in Los Angeles County jails and provided inaccurate statistics about jailhouse assaults to news organizations and its oversight agency, according to a report released Wednesday Aug. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

The Florida Department of Corrections is beginning to make some changes that are causing resistance from inmates’ loved ones.

After receiving a large amount of money from a private vendor that facilitates financial transactions within the prisons, the department wants to cut prison visitation in half and replace it with multimedia kiosks.

For example, the department already gets $2.75 every time a family member or friend transfers money into an inmate’s bank account.

The change to multimedia kiosks as opposed to visits is projected to bring in even more revenue, since email and other services will be fee-based.

According to Lucius Couloute, a policy analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative, “The fact that they’re implementing a policy that allows facilities to reduce in-person visits suggests to me that what they’re actually doing is trying to funnel people into these for-profit video calling systems.”

He added that video calling is used at more than 700 jails nationwide, and that around 74 percent of them drop or reduce in-person visits.

The department says the video calls are a supplement rather than a replacement for visits, while critics argue the new revenue is a form of exploitation of inmates and families who might not be able to afford it.

A 15-minute video call would cost $2.95. However, since it would be initiated by the inmate’s loved one, the state would not get a commission, as it would with email or some other services.

Tracie Natoli-Aaron, whose 20-year-old daughter is at Lowell Correctional Institution, says that she cannot afford an $80 tablet being offered by JPay, the financial vendor for Florida’s prison system. She adds, “It breaks my heart. As much money as they make, it should be cheaper.”

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