County puts inmate calls in hands of surveillance giant

A person in a jail uses a Securus phone. (Photo NBC news)

A person in a jail uses a Securus phone in a story that points out that as technology increases in jails and prisons, isolation grows. (Photo NBC news)

By David Tulis

A giant in the prison-industrial complex has secured a contract with Hamilton County that lets it siphon profit from the conversations among inmates, family members and attorneys. Hamilton County sheriff Jim Hammond has engaged Securus Technology to install and run video interview systems and let the company lock up a revenue stream through 2019.

Securus Technologies may be involved in the illegal recording of attorney-defendant conversations that are legally privileged. According to revelations by the Intercept investigative journalism website, Securus snoops on tens of millions of these conversations and records them.

Securus is part of the American prison-industrial complex that exploded in the 1990s under  Republican get-tough-on-crime state administrations. It is part of an increasingly dysfunctional national economy which finds profits in fees — a skimming economy that produces little of value but locks in profits in inelastic state-controlled markets.

The company feeds off the for-profit prison industry that profits investors by keeping prisons full. Advocates and families say the end of in-persons visits stems from a harmful push for profit that isolates prisoners and strains already-stretched family budgets, according to NBC News.

“Incarceration has an effect on more people than those who are incarcerated — it affects families,” said Bernadette Rabuy with the group Prison Policy Initiative. “We shouldn’t be punishing families trying to stay in contact with their loved ones.”

Hamilton County is not paying for the 54 kiosks installed by Securus, which will save on paper F$32,000 in labor for the county not having to shuffle prisoners about for face-to-face interviews. The kiosks are said to cost about F$418,000, according to a report in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and are free for families and inmates who use them at the jail. The skimming economy comes into play for online access to prisoners. Family members who pay F$15 get a 30-minute session from the comfort of their home or office computers.

The county collects F$300,000 in revenue from the system, and for years afterward Securus collects what is essentially free money.

The county collects up to 50 percent of revenue from remote visits, according to the newspaper, but the amount and duration of the arrangement depends on traffic.

Sheriff Hammond is quoted as saying that the system will relieve pressure on the use of face-to-face visitation booths. Attorneys will be able to meet with clients face to face, or to use the video stations.

Snooping giant

Securus is part of the national government’s surveillance apparatus, and may be involved in illegally compromising the relationship between attorneys and criminal defendants in custody. Five days before the story about Securus’ gains in Hamilton County were reported, the Intercept reported the following, based on revelations from a whistleblower. Securus is recording phone calls that should not be recorded. Seventy million calls in facilities in 37 states revealed that 14,000 phone calls among inmates and attorneys were recorded.

On its website Securus says the Dallas company “serves” more than 1.2 million inmates in North America and more than 3,450 agencies at 2,200 correctional facilities across the U.S. and Canada. “ Securus Technologies is committed to serve and connect by providing emergency response, incident management, public information, investigation, verification, communication, information management, inmate self-service, and monitoring products and services in order to make our world a safer place to live.

The privileged calls were hacked, and are apparently available on the Internet for anyone to hear. The hack contained URLs where millions of calls could be heard, as well as metadata for hundreds of thousands of calls involving inmates. The call data was published to make the point that it is involved in unlawful surveillance and that its guarantees of secure communications are untrue. Some of the calls were between inmates and prosecutors.

Like many players in cartelized national economy, Securus has grown by consolidation. “In recent years,” the company says, “Securus has strategically executed a revolutionary growth plan by acquiring organizations offering complimentary products and services beyond communications, fortifying Securus’ position in the industry as the leading provider of full-spectrum Civil and Criminal Justice Technology Solutions.”

Last year it bought General Security Services Corporation to profit from GPS offender monitoring systems. In 2013 it bought Satellite Tracking of People LLC., that uses GPS to monitor released offenders. In 2012 it bought Primonics Inc., that creates video visitation systems profiting from family and lawyer visits with inmates. Founded in 1986 as T-Netix Inc., the company had a major expansion in 1992 when T-Netix, Inc. acquired eight inmate phone business companies and the assets of two other outfits.

— David Tulis hosts a talk show weekdays in Chattanooga from 9 to 11 a.m. on 1240 AM Hot News Talk Radio, covering local economy and free markets in Chattanooga and beyond. Support this site and his radio station on the real airwaves in Chattanooga, on your smartphone via the TuneIn radio app or at You back David by patronizing his advertisers with specific reference to him. Even better, encourage independent media by having David run commercials for your business.

— Sources: Shelly Bradbury, “Behind Bars Fiber Optics; [;] ;Jail cuts face-to-face visits, installs video-chat screens,” Chattanooga Times Free Press, Nov. 17, 2015

Jordan Smith and Micah Lee, “Not so Securus[;] massive hack of 70 million prisoner phone calls indicates violations of attorney-client privilege,” The Intercept,

Lisa Seville, “As jail visits go high-tech, isolation grows,”, Feb. 27, 2015.

One Response

  1. John Ballinger

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