Worth Rises has just won a major victory in the battle for prison phone justice. Yesterday, industry behemoth Securus pulled out of its agreement to purchase ICSolutions. This transaction would have further consolidated the prison telecom industry and given Securus unprecedented control, hurting competition and, in turn, public interest.
The Corrections Accountability Project stands in solidarity with incarcerated people across the country participating in the 2018 National Prison Strike and fully supports their list of demands. As an organization dedicated to decommercializing justice, we call specific attention to the National Prison Strike’s second demand: “An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.”
While incarcerated, people accrue various expenses from restitution to the cost of basic necessities like underwear and toiletries. Many are also charged co-pays for medical care, purchase food to avoid poor quality rations, and chip in to help sustain families on the outside. Yet, they are paid pennies an hour for labor that keeps the prisons that cage them operating. In the most egregious of cases, incarcerated laborers are paid nothing to manufacture items that are then sold back to them in prison stores, or commissary.
States get away with exploiting incarcerated labor due to the Thirteenth Amendment, which explicitly allows for the use of slavery as punishment for a crime. This anathema in our constitution facilitates the continued enslavement of black, and now brown, bodies, which are disproportionately targeted for imprisonment. More than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, we still need to protest slavery in our country and incarcerated people nationwide are risking their lives to do so.
So long as we continue to incarcerate people, we must pay prison laborers fair wages.
In May 2018, Securus Technologies announced the acquisition of Inmate Calling Solutions (ICS). The transaction has largely gone unnoticed outside of the occasional financial report describing the $350 million deal as a “costly purchase” that “removes a marginal competitor.” But a closer look at the relationship between Securus and ICS may raise serious anti-trust concerns that will cost incarcerated people and their support networks much more.
After the deal is finalized, advocates estimate that as much as 90% of the correctional telecom market will be split between two companies, Securus and Global Tel Link (GTL). Until now, GTL has led the $1.2 billion industry. However, when the ICS deal closes, Securus will likely become the nation’s largest correctional telecom provider as measured by revenue, number of contracts, or facilities served and be well-positioned for organic growth.
On January 3, 2018, as part of his annual State of the State address to the New York legislature, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a set of proposed reforms that he described as an “overhaul” of New York’s criminal legal system. While overhaul may be a strong descriptor, Governor Cuomo’s proposals address an important but often overlooked issue in criminal justice reform: the harm caused to low-income communities when financial interests pervade our carceral state.
In his preface, the governor acknowledged that New York has “a two-tiered system where outcomes depend purely on economic status.” Two of his five proposed reforms—the de-emphasis of money bail and strengthening of civil asset forfeiture protections—would reduce the revenue private companies and law enforcement agencies garner at the expense of those directly-impacted by the criminal legal system.
With an overwhelming 2.2 million people behind bars, it’s tempting to focus reform efforts on those convicted of non-violent offenses. After all, they represent about half of the incarcerated population. But what about the other half?
A few months ago, I met five men serving life sentences for violent crimes, ranging from robbery to murder, at New York’s notorious Sing Sing Correctional Facility. They took turns introducing themselves. Each started with a heavy litany of numbers: “arrested at 16, convicted at 20, served 24 years.” Having spent most of their lives incarcerated, naturally they were all very different from who they were, some just children, at the start of their sentences.