At this point, it’s almost inevitable that brands will launch muted online campaigns built around a month of celebration: check out displays from the last month of Pride like Raytheon and Spotify proof. But two companies exploiting the limited access between incarcerated people and the outside world are taking things to a new level.
JPay and Securus Technologies are two communication services that charge money for exchanges such as phone calls, text messages, video calls and emails with incarcerated people. They are major players in a $1.4 billion industry that exists explicitly to make money from incarcerated people and prisons, and anyone who wants to stay in touch with them: parents, grandparents, siblings, partners, children, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins, friends, correspondents, attorneys, lawyers and journalists. And they have a message for all those users: Happy Black History Month! In two emails sent on February 2, the companies each sent an almost identical email to their customers:
“Expensive [Katie/Securus Customer],
To celebrate Black History Month and help you stay in touch with your incarcerated loved one, we’ve created a “Free Reply Tuesday” every Tuesday in February!
Also enjoy new inspiring themed e-card designs! »
The email ended with instructions on how to claim the “free response” offer, and then both companies offered their “best regards.”
JPay’s fees vary across the 50 states it operates in, but in New York, sending a single email to or from jail costs between 17 and 25 cents, depending on how many “stamps” the people buy both. With Securus, a single 15-minute call to an out-of-state facility can cost callers up to $3.75. While these fees may seem low, for families living below the poverty line and for inmates with jobs who make pennies per hourthe cost of contact is rising rapidly – the prison communications industry has been widely criticized by prisoner advocacy groups for recharge desperate users to keep in touch with loved ones.
The population that these services are meant to serve is undeniably disproportionately black. Because black people are incarcerated in nearly five times the rate that the whites are, 40 percent of the people in prison and in prisons are blackand 63% of black Americans have had an immediate family member incarcerated. Black people keep JPay and Securus afloat, and the tokens of appreciation JPay and Securus offer in return are personalized e-cards and three days of free replies, since the email wasn’t even sent on Feb 1 , the first Tuesday of the month.
This isn’t the first time these companies have offered similar deals. You would know that just from the email from Securus which, perhaps suggesting how sloppy the promotion had been, included a small leftover copy in the email from Securus touting its Veterans Day” Free Reply Thursday,” instead of the “celebration” of Black History Month. should promote:
These communication services are also the only ones (legal) means of communicating with incarcerated people, other than by mail or in person – methods that the frequent and uncontrolled outbreaks of COVID in jails and prisons have rendered unreliable.
How else do JPay and Securus and prison communications companies like them honor black people 365 days a year? Through record calls between lawyers and their clientswhat Securus was caught doing in 2015. By accusing recently released people fees to access money they won while working in prisonthat the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined JPay in 2021. And generally making the lives of incarcerated black people, and black people who care about an incarcerated person, more difficult.
In short: “Happy Black History Month” from the parasites who get rich off the backs of black people, both inside and outside of thousands of prisons, jails, detention centers for immigrants and other prisons in the United States.
Follow Katie Way on Twitter.