Beyond Bars: Prison population susceptible to exploitation, profiteering practices
The often innocent people who support the incarcerated do so by visiting, phoning and sending money. Over 1 percent of the male population is incarcerated. That makes for a lot of friends and family. All sorts of exploitation and profiteering has arisen because of the limited opportunity to lend this type of support.
Recently, I tried setting up a visit online through Securus, Davis County Jail’s video and phone system. I first tried the app and it didn’t work. I also tried on their website; it didn’t work. I called the number I was given and after a 30-minute wait, I was told I called the wrong number and was transferred in the middle of asking what number I should call. I spent over an hour on hold and eventually hung up.
There are many companies that get by with horrible customer support, but I was told by a helpful and informative officer at the jail’s visiting lobby that the website works about 75 percent of the time and so does the app, so between the two, one of them is usually working. After almost two weeks, I was able to successfully schedule a visit, but the sound did not work. Of course, there are no refunds. I agreed to the terms, which stated it is not their problem if stuff doesn’t work — “use at your own risk”-type verbiage.
Phone calls are the other option, but they are pretty expensive. When I was in jail, a collect call to a cellphone could run almost $30. When I was in prison, it was big news when phone calls no longer charged a connection fee and a 30-minute call only cost $6. Securus, also used in the prison, still charges $6 to put money into a non-refundable account that only allows someone to add $50 at a time. It’s profiteering and I’ve come to expect it as the norm when it comes to these companies that are not beholden to the end-user.
Just this week, I made a payment with my debit card at the kiosk in the Adult Probation and Parole building. The next day, I received a phone call from a guy who claimed to be from Access Corrections — another organization like Securus that takes advantage of this easily exploited group.
The guy on the phone asked to speak to Brian Wood. He said he was calling because there was a large payment made and he needed to verify it. I asked if it was the one for $1,200, and he said, “That’s the one.” He then asked me for my address. I told him that the info on the card used matches the account for which the payment was made. He said, “What is your address? You need to verify it, sir.” I asked what other information he would be asking for. He told me, “You need to provide all the information that was provided at the kiosk.” I clarified, “You want me to give you my address, credit card number, expiration date and CVN on the back?” He exclaimed, “EVERYTHING!” He said it slowly and with emphasis.
At this point I laughed and explained my stance, “You’re calling me from some random number and asking me for all my credit card information.” I told him to hold on while I looked up the number he called from. Google told me it was Access Corrections, but numbers can be spoofed. I decided to play it safe. After a brief hold I told the guy I wasn’t going to provide the information being requested.
He then told me my payment was going to be declined and I said that’s fine. If it would have ended there, I wouldn’t be writing about it. But what he said next blew me away. He said to me, “If you do not give me that information, then you will be in violation of your parole.” (This usually means going to prison for 30 days until the Board of Pardons and Parole decide how long they want to keep you.) I knew this was not the case. I told him he just lost all credibility by lying to me. I wish I would have called him out in a different way and said, “Shame on you for using a blatant lie as a fear tactic.” He argued that I would be late on my payment if this were declined and I countered I still had the rest of the month to pay. He reiterated before I hung up that if this wasn’t verified I would be in trouble.
After that exchange, I was thinking I may have thwarted a fraudster after all. I called my parole officer who was very nice and made a joke that he wouldn’t violate me for trying to make a payment, unless it was with someone else’s credit card — which has happened. It turns out it was really Access Corrections calling, because my payment was declined. I do think this guy’s attitude and way he went about trying to get the info he needed is an accurate representation of the way this company views the people that make them money. I can’t quite call myself their customer, even though I pay ridiculous amounts to use their services, because the facility is really their client. I speculate there are profit sharing considerations with these monopolies. It’s not criminal, just wrong.
At the end of the day, I’m going to just chalk it up to the overall cost of my poor decisions years ago. But right now, I’m using my voice for the families that are being taken advantage of. I asked my parole officer if he had ever heard of anyone getting a phone call to “verify” payment, and he told me he hadn’t, but then again he didn’t even know of anyone who paid more than $100. To me, that just highlights the fact that it is the poor who are being exploited here.