2019年12月19日 星期四

Race/Related: Family and Incarceration (Part 3)

A weeklong special holiday edition with The Marshall Project.
Mike April, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, chats via online video with his wife, Heather April, who is incarcerated at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Oregon.Nitashia Johnson/The Marshall Project
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By nicole lewis and beatrix lockwood

Cold visitation rooms. Long drives. Regulations on what clothes you can wear. Prisons don’t make it easy for family members to come and see their loved ones. Many are promoting “video visitation” as an alternative to the hassle of in-person visits. In some jails that’s now the only option.

The video calls come with a high price. For people on the outside, apps such as FaceTime and Google Hangouts are free. But in some facilities, video calls can run $1 per minute.

Many families say the companies that provide video call services for prisons are profiting from desperation. When the video calls don’t work, many families can’t choose a different provider or ask for their loved one to be moved to a facility with a better connection.

[Throughout this week, Race/Related is partnering with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit newsroom covering the U.S. criminal justice system, to present a special series on family and incarceration during the holidays. You can subscribe to its weekly newsletter on Life Inside here.]

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To better understand the benefits and challenges of video calls, The Marshall Project reached out to people who use these services. We heard from 161 people in 32 states.

Many welcomed the video calls as a way to stay in touch. Yet the majority shared the same complaint: The prices are high, the quality is spotty at best and it’s extremely difficult to get money back when the calls don’t work as expected.

Mike April has spent thousands of dollars on video calls with his wife, Heather April, who is incarcerated in Oregon. He tries to visit every three to four months, keeping in touch over video between in-person visits. But he says the video and audio are often out of sync.

These frustrations highlight a broader trend across the corrections industry. Video calls have transformed family members of incarcerated people from “visitors” to “consumers.” Instead of learning how to navigate the facilities’ visitation rules, they are now purchasing services from profit-oriented telecommunications companies.

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Many family members said the switch to video comes with an emotional cost, too. Visits help families keep their relationships, but they also provide a crucial glimpse at their loved ones’ well-being. Many noted they can’t reveal as much over video.

“There’s a nonverbal language spoken between two people in person that video calls could never capture,” wrote one respondent whose father is incarcerated in Georgia.

Further Reading

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Race/Related is a newsletter focused on race, identity and culture. It’s published weekly on Saturday mornings at 7 a.m. and edited by Lauretta Charlton. Invite someone to subscribe to the Race/Related newsletter. Or email your thoughts and suggestions to racerelated@nytimes.com.

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