If you think JPay sucks, you’re not alone. Securus Technologies, JPay’s parent company, brings in more than $700 million in profit every year. Both companies make their hundreds of millions from the friends and families of incarcerated people. Yet, at least for now, people with loved ones in prison are stuck dealing with their overpriced and inconvenient services.
What are the positives and negatives of JPay?
On the one hand, JPay provides helpful communication technology. This technology helps incarcerated people stay in touch with their friends and family. The importance of those communications cannot be overstated. The benefits of staying in touch with friends and family while on the inside are practically undisputed. The more you stay in touch with loved ones from prison, the better off you are. Your mental and emotional health improves. Your chances of recidivism go down. And your loved ones and community feel the benefits, too. These are good things.
On the other, JPay’s services are expensive, inconvenient and often unreliable. Securus Technologies works with nearly 3,500 prisons. It handles more than 250 million calls every year. And, according to one report, it charges the highest rates of any company to do so. In Arkansas, for example, one 15-minute phone call through Securus Technologies’ system can cost up to $25.
All in all, the positives outweigh the negatives, at least in theory. Staying in touch with your loved one in prison is worth it no matter the cost. But there is no real reason JPay’s services have to cost as much as they do. State and federal governments could make the calls and other services free if they wanted. That’s what Connecticut, for example, is doing.
If so many people think JPay sucks, why hasn’t it changed?
If you’re like us, you’ve used JPay enough that you start asking yourself why: Why do we put up with this? The reality is that the public could get government officials or even Securus Technologies and JPay to improve the problem with enough pressure. But it’s hard to make that happen.
The main reason why it’s so hard to fix the problem centers on who uses these services and who foots the bill. The answer to both is people with loved ones in prisons. We are the only ones who need the services. And we’re also the only ones who are willing to pay for them. And it’s hard to create enough pressure unless people who aren’t using and paying for these services speak up, too.
It’s difficult to get people to care about things that don’t impact them personally.
Unfortunately, as this article by the Center for Public Integrity points out, it’s tough to get people to care about issues that don’t personally impact them. In 2014, the article’s authors wrote a piece about private companies profiting off of prisoners. Then they wrote a second piece about people’s reactions to the first piece.
Of course, some people were sympathetic to the devastating financial consequences to families from incarceration. But others claimed prisoners and their families deserve it. Comments from one Yahoo! user, “stulaw11,” stand out more than the rest.
“Does any one [sic] consider that these people are in JAIL. they broke the law- stole, robbed, rape, murdered, etc.,” they wrote. “Why the hell should tax payers foot their bills while themselves and their families get off?”
For stulaw11, these kinds of things just don’t matter. “I do not feel one bit bad for this women [sic] 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 [sic], 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.”
Staying in touch with someone in prison is hard. It’s expensive. It’s time-consuming. And it’s frustrating. Maybe you sent a message through JPay that never arrived. Maybe your loved one tried to send you a message, but you never got it. Or maybe you can’t even figure out how to use JPay at your loved one’s facility.
You’re not alone. Thousands of people with loved ones in prison feel just like you: JPay sucks. For now, though, Securus Technologies and JPay don’t have a reason to change things.