Prison contractor who charges inmates cell phone rates proposes a visit to virtual reality

Global Tel Link (GTL), the massive prison recruitment giant that provides technology ranging from telecommunications systems to payment services for prisons in the United States, may have found another way to express more changes in prisons. imprisoned people who make contact with the outside world.

As Vice first reported, Global Tel Link (GTL) recently filed a patent describing a “system and method for a personalized virtual reality experience in a controlled environment.” He continues: “It reveals a system and a method to start a personalized virtual reality session using a virtual reality communication system in a controlled environment.”

Actually, what this describes is a virtual reality system through which imprisoned people could interact with other people outside of prison: the VR visit using basically digital avatars. Other possible uses could be to allow prisoners “for a short time, to imagine themselves outside or outside the controlled environment.”

GTL obviously intends the ways in which this system can be used to be entirely at the whims of prison officials, who normally guard any access site outside. The patent describes a “monitoring system” that “continuously monitors the visual information of the virtual reality session for any prohibited action … performed by a user’s avatar that the control center determines is not suitable for to a virtual reality session “.

The patent is filed in September 2019, so any such product could be a long way from being installed in prisons.

Prisons have never been a nice place to meet, but in recent decades for-profit correctional facilities and prison contractors that make up the U.S. prison industrial complex have eagerly taken on what is literally a captive market. For example, GTL controlled approximately 46% -53% of telecommunications contracts in U.S. prisons as of 2017. Both he and his main competitor Securus have been accused of using their domain to participate in reducing prices.

The Federal Communications Commission intervened in May 2021 to hinder the practice of contractors shaking inmates by phone calls, limiting international and out-of-state calls to US $ 0.12 ($ 0) per minute for prisons and US $ 0.14 ($ 0) for prisons. This did not limit calls made within a state, which are still overly expensive.

Prison policy initiative research has shown that contractors charge extortive rates for calls nationwide, with the worst example in Arkansas, which charged up to $ 25 ($ 34) for a 15-minute call from of counties administered by counties or cities or $ 4.80 ($ 7) from a state prison in 2018. In an Oregon county, GTL charged nearly $ 18 ($ 24) for a 15-minute call. The Penitentiary Policy Initiative says most fees are paid by families and are inflated by the “setbacks” that contractors pay to government institutions, such as correctional systems.

GTL has stated that it wants to reduce prison phone costs and attributes the high costs to things like security and the supply of correctional equipment. But the Orlando Sentinel reported this year that families of Florida inmates were furious over a new GTL contract with the state Department of Corrections that added a flat rate of 99 cents ($ 1.34) to all deposits prepaid and only reduced the rate per minute by half a cent, to 13.5 cents ($ 0.07). The contract also eliminated cheaper options for calls made locally.

In 2019, it was reported that GTL was handing out tablets to West Virginia inmates that it advertised as “free”. The hardware was free, but the fees charged by inmates for using the tablets were huge. Access to content cost 5 cents ($ 0.07) per minute, video viewing cost 25 cents ($ 0.34) per minute plus 25 cents ($ 0.34) per text message, photo attachments they cost 50 cents ($ 0.68) and video attachments cost a dollar. As the prison policy initiative estimated in 2017 that West Virginia inmates earned between 4 and 58 cents ($ 0.79) an hour, sending a photo could absorb 12.5 hours of work.

As the motherboard noted, the RV had previously been used in prisons for purposes such as skills training and preparing inmates for their potentially disorienting return to modern life after long stretches between bars. But it’s not hard to imagine a situation where the RV visit becomes one more excuse to suck up to the last day the jailed people, their families and loved ones, especially because private prisons and their contractors have it all. incentives to replace the free visit in person. with remote calling technology for which they can charge astronomical rates. As reported by The Guardian in 2017, it has become extremely common for U.S. prisons to do so, citing data from the Prison Policy Initiative which showed that 74% of U.S. prisons that implemented prison programs remote visits reduced or eliminated face-to-face visits.

This is far from the only proposed use of VR in the correctional system that somehow manages to sound more dystopian than current facilities that have a neighborhood of 2.3 million people in the United States on a given day.

A 2020 study by the Indiana School of Law and Social Equality proposed using virtual reality headsets to “provide a virtual environment in which the criminal is punished for the crime he commits,” with an example that subjected an inmate with arachnophobia a punishment where more and more spiders were added to a “virtual environment that completely mimicked his real-world prison cell.” (The study noted that “there is, of course, no precedent for this” and that these punishments could face the punishment clause of the eighth amendment, but at least advocated discussing it).

Others have advocated for virtual prisons, in which the use of physical institutions would be limited and replaced by technology such as location tracking and mandatory solitude on VR headsets.

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