Reporters here at the Center often spend weeks, months and sometimes years investigating a single subject, but when that topic is complex, no amount of time feels like it’s enough to truly cover all sides of an issue.
This was abundantly clear to us after we started reading comments on the ‘Profiting from Prisoners’ series we released last week.
Reporters Daniel Wagner and Eleanor Bell focused on layers of fees that come alongside money transfers to prison inmates from their families, but based on some readers’ remarks, these fees are merely a snapshot of what can happen to captive customers.
Below, we’ve culled responses from across the Internet: some were thankful for the story, some added dimension to our reporting and some weren’t fans of the piece at all.
(We’ve edited these responses for length, clarity and appropriateness for a PG-13 audience. Where possible, we’ve linked through to the original quote.)
reddit user xcubbinx, who used to fill vending machines in visiting rooms:
“The amount of money made off of inmates families is ludicrous … When a family comes to visit an inmate, they load up their money cards, since actually cash isn’t allowed inside, and they spend upwards of $20 to $30 on soda and snacks. The prison gets 40% of that as per the contract with the vendor. My machines made about $12k a week. Now, the inmates work jobs during their stay and they get paid for their work, although it’s minimal. The inmates can also get money put into their accounts by their families. This is where it gets bad. The people giving them this money are usually living paycheck to paycheck themselves. The inmate usually doesn’t just have one family though, they have multiple families, friends, and significant others giving them this money.”
Yahoo! user stulaw11:
“Does any one consider that these people are in JAIL. they broke the law- stole, robbed, rape, murdered, etc. Why the hell should tax payers foot their bills while themselves and their families get off?
And before you say that the families are innocent, crime is due to nurture not nature. No one is born a criminal … This is a result of the upbringing by that very family who now wants to complain why they have to pay their kid’s jail bill …
I do not feel one bit bad for this women in the story or any others who pay for their spouse, son, daughter, parent, brother, sister, etc in jail. That is your choice to help them. This is just the cost of “doing business.” Why should tax payers, like myself who has never even had a ticket in 33 years, literally pay for your relatives’ crimes? We need to spend taxes on education, healthcare etc.”
reddit user MmmBra1nzzz, a former Virginia Department of Corrections inmate:
“… [Prisoners] are given necessities, but they suck. And you practically have to beg for them. They don’t just hand them out … You are given 3 underwear, jeans, t-shirts, button up shirts, socks, 1 jacket, a pair of the most uncomfortable boots in the world, shower shoes, 2 sheets, 1 blanket, and a used mattress and used pillow. During the winter, I spent close to $300 on a sweatshirt, thermal underwear and shirt, wool socks, and boots that were actually fit for outdoor use. Without these, I couldn’t have made it outside in the snow for meals.”
Facebook user Richard Lingo:
“They also confiscate those ridiculously overpriced commissary items if you transfer to another facility, and definitely don’t bother telling you when or if you will be transferred. I spent $90 on commissary (items that would total about $25 on the outside) and two days later they transferred me to work release. Even though they were the same exact items I could buy at the new facility, they confiscate it anyway. They won’t let you take it with you. Then when you get there, they make you buy it all again. This sucks even worse due to the fact that a small box of laundry soap was 13 f****** dollars and I had just bought it and it was supposed to get me through a month but no, they take it away and I have to buy more. The same f****** brand and item. Doesn’t matter that it was never opened they steal it and make you buy a new one.”
Email from Spencer:
“My son was recently placed in Hillsborough County jail in Tampa. He is 28 going on 12 from a physical and mental state and he make many poor decisions. He has been there before and I experienced much of what you addressed in your article in trying to stay in touch via the phone and being supportive. My home is in Michigan so I cannot visit and would like to stay in touch via the phone. I am not indigent, but I may be if he stays there much longer and I spend more time trying to be reassuring and supportive. He suffers from anxiety, depression. ADD, etc.
The cost to provide $20.00 of phone access at their high rate per minute cost is $31.00. I can add more to the account and I am not sure what it costs. If money is left in the account when he is released there is an additional charge and if I leave it there if disappears after six months.”
reddit user 17th_knight:
“Correctional Officer here … You really think politicians and corporate big wigs wouldn’t rape every penny from every human on this planet given the opportunity? And what can prisoners do about it? Who’s going to take their side?
In the past year we had to go from a fee-free system to using a f***-terrible private company. To give people back their money, we now put it on goddamn disposable debit cards (imagine the waste in plastic that is), they charge HUGE fees for you to withdraw at an ATM, and if you don’t spend it in 2 days they take whatever’s on there still.”
YouTube user BigSy1977:
“This crap is a joke, These families are not victims. The people they stole from, Killed, raped, beat are the real victims. This is obviously a slanted piece with an agenda. Can someone please tell me of a service provider that gives away it’s services for free? I like how the quotes from all the people they’re bashing have been sliced and diced to fit their agenda. Anyone with a brain understands that there is cost associated with providing services and this is recouped by charging a rate to the customer base … i have no sympathy for criminals. And if someone thinks that they should choose between sending an inmate money or feeding their kids … they shouldn’t have custody of kids to begin with because they’re obviously not making good life choices!!!”
Facebook user Mike Regan:
“Crony capitalism at work. JPay lobbies elected officials for the contract with campaign contributions. State recoups funds from the families of these convicts. Sorry but I don’t feel bad for them. Don’t do the crime and you will not have to do the time.”
Email from Kate:
“Kudos to you for calling JPay and other companies out in your article! I live in Florida and my husband is incarcerated in the Florida Department of Corrections. It is very expensive to have a loved one in prison. I send him $50.00, it costs me $7.95 through Jpay, we have no other option! When I go to visit him, you are allowed to bring $50 into visitation, trust me it gets spent! And please do not get me started on our recent purchase of clothing items, or the cost of phone calls. I hope your article draws some attention to these companies and someone does something about it!”
reddit user humboldter, on an inmate’s opportunity to buy amenities:
“That is f***** up–because it creates a system where:
The more money you have, the easier your sentence is, and
The less money you have, the more doomed your family is to suffer financially during your incarceration.
If you are sentenced to jail, there should be no amenities. This is America. I’m not advocating no toothpaste for everyone: just the opposite. Our laws are supposed to be applied equally, regardless of money, race, etc. I know they aren’t, but to create a whole banking empire to promote inequalities–that’s insane.”
Read more in Inside Public Integrity
Veteran journalist most recently directed CREW’s research team