Florida never seems to pass up the opportunity to make a bad situation worse, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Are prison video calls a convenience or a scheme to make money for prison officials?
Florida ignores criminal justice reform and spends around $2.4 billion annually on its prison system, which in this situation means reducing in-person visits, according to Times columnist John Romano.
There are studies that show inmates who stay connected to the outside world are less likely to re-offend. It also leads to better-behaved inmates, who anticipate family visits, according to the article.
“We value in-person visitation; we absolutely do. But given our current (financial) situation, this is our best option for safety reasons,” said Michelle Glady, Department of Corrections (DOC) spokeswoman.
“I know there’s a lot of emotion and fear among family members out there, but we’re not eliminating in-person visitation.”
“The possibility of revenue is probably the leading factor”
The video calls have actually replaced in-person visits in many jails (but not many prisons) around the country, which creates complications with fees for money transfers, services and downloads, according to the article.
“They’re reducing our days so they can make money on video visitation. Money is what motivates these people,” said Jewie Tryon. Her husband is serving a 25-to-life sentence. She has started a petition on change.org to stop the reduction of visiting days.
“When you take away the only honest-to-God reason for rehabilitation these guys have, you’re going to have trouble. I promise you that.”
Her thoughts were echoed by an analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. “We know family visits reduce recidivism, and they create a safer prison environment,” said Lucius Couloute. “I can’t think of a good reason for wanting to eliminate visiting days. The possibility of revenue is probably the leading factor.”
The DOC acknowledges the power of in-person visits yet the possibility of cutting the visitation in half due to budget issues is still on the table. Their reasons are lack of staff to safely handle weekend visits, according to the article.
Florida had been working for two years with the South Florida contractor JPay, whose opinion is that the video calls are meant to supplement, not replace the contact visits, according to the article. Representatives from JPay were contacted but did not respond to an interview request.