Journalism Guild Writer
A new nonprofit corporation is seeking to establish free video conferencing between the incarcerated and their families, Bloomberg reports.
Thanks to donated funds, Ameelio has signed contracts with Colorado and Iowa for pilots of the new program.
The effort comes in the wake of expensive telephone calls between prisoners and their loved ones. In-state calls can cost $1 a minute using the $1.4 billion prison telecommunications corporations Securus, Global Tel Link, and ICSolutions.
Ameelio reported it received more than $2.5 million in donations from Twitter Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey, venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, former Ebay Inc. CEO Devin Wenig, and the Shuttleworth and Robin Hood foundations.
The extreme costs have caused lawmakers to attempt reform through regulations, while activists are looking to create free-of-charge alternatives, Bloombers reported Sept. 8.
Studies show that contact with loved ones reduces stress from being locked up, and leads to positive results after release, the story noted.
“Maintaining family contact is a huge benefit to people behind the walls; it should not be a fanciful goal,” said Colorado corrections chief Dean Williams.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, in-person visits became restricted and remote technology emerged as a way to stay connected and engaged.
According to Worth Rises, a nonprofit advocating against prison exploitation, some telecom companies increased cash flow due to the pandemic, as families spent more to reach their loved ones. Yet high telecommunication fees also created financial burdens for families. Bloomberg noted that “high fees disproportionately harm Black, Brown, and poor residents – with women bearing the greatest brunt …One in three families…in a 2015 report say they went into debt to stay connected.”
As of Oct. 26, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) imposed a rate cap on out-of-state and international calls at 12 cents a minute for prisons and 14 cents for jails. An August 2020 letter from a coalition of senators read, “Now, as many facilities have suspended in-person visits and families face layoffs, furloughs and evictions due to the pandemic, these calls are more necessary — and cost-prohibitive — than ever.”
Ameelio co-founder Uzoma Orchingwa said, “These companies know they’re the only game in town…It made sense to try to just disrupt the industry by building a free alternative.”