From the May-June 2018 issue of News & Letters
by Robert Taliaferro
“Send money your way,” the posters on the living units and cellblocks of Wisconsin’s prisons proclaimed as the ACCESS/KEEFE consortium touted the “benefits” of their service to family and friends who are sending money to prisoners.
PRISON OKed EXTORTION
Prior to February 2018, using ACCESS/KEEFE was an option—albeit the most expensive and convoluted available. After Feb. 18, 2018, however, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections/Division of Adult Institutions (WDOC/DAI) is forcing prisoners—and the family/friends of those prisoners—to be subjected to financially extortive, predatory practices promulgated by “approved vendors,” by giving ACCESS/KEEFE the monopoly on how Wisconsin prisoners can receive funds from external sources.
According to a WDOC/DAI memo this method has “several benefits…including anticipated cost savings for family and friends,” and it would also offer “multiple convenient methods to process funds.”
The Jan. 12 memo was posted after inmates filed a number of complaints challenging the policy. Complaints stated:
♦It promotes an undue burden on prisoners and their families;
♦It is an extortive and alienating practice which is racist;
♦The fees charged are exorbitant and predatory;
♦The new policy was improperly enacted per state law, as it amounts to a monopolized contract.
Replies by WDOC mimicked the party line, noting how “easy and convenient” the process was and stating, “It is general practice and not uncommon for a business to charge a processing fee for services.”
UNNECESSARY FRUSTRATING PROCEDURE
The new process does allow for family/friends to send checks or money orders through the U.S. Postal Service, but only to ACCESS/KEEFE and made payable to that consortium. A deposit slip also has to be sent with the prisoner’s name and number, along with the sender’s date of birth that must be obtained on a visit, be sent from an incarcerated person, or from the ACCESS/KEEFE website.
People contacting the company for the slip were frustrated to find that it was not available. This method is the cheapest, but the most unsecure and subject to delays of 10 days or more before funds are posted.
The “benefits and convenience” lauded by the WDOC/DAI and ACCESS/KEEFE are only available for a fee. Money orders cost 70 cents—on average—plus a stamp to send it.
When sent directly to prisoners under the former method, funds would be posted to a prisoner’s account within a day or two of their arrival. Under the new policy, if expediency is desired, you must have a computer and be willing to pay between $1.95 for sending as little as a penny, up to $8.45 for $300. If you do not have access to a computer and want to use your phone, it will cost from $3.95 to $9.45.
If you have access to a computer and want to use the walk-in option per Dollar General and other stores in the ACCESS consortium, you have to print out a coded card that is used by the stores. This option costs $4.95 per transaction, from a penny to the limit of $2,900, and, like the option to print out a deposit slip, it has yet to become available.
ANOTHER BURDEN ON PRISON FAMILIES
What about a person on a fixed income who can’t afford another $2 to send their grandchild $5; or members of the Black community in Milwaukee who only access the internet by their phones?
They either must pay the higher fee or not send any money due to how unsecure the “free” option is. This is another method for states to extort money from prisoners’ families to pad their financially poor correctional policy decisions with the kickbacks they receive from “authorized vendors.” Vendors can charge what they choose, as they have a monopoly in supplying goods and services to prisoners. Wisconsin allows them to charge up to 100% or more above wholesale for items.
ACCESS/KEEFE gleaned a $375 million profit in 2012, and, in 2014, Wisconsin received nearly $2.5 million in kickbacks, just from the prisoner phone monopoly alone through Securus and Century Link.
There are over two million people incarcerated in the U.S. Most have family members and friends who are eligible to vote. Like the students in this country who are tired of the lackluster responses of legislators to support viable change, those individuals can flex their collective muscles, and demand change through their votes.