On the Transition from JPay to GTL: Technology Increasing Disconnectedness

The Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC) is switching from JPay for email, videograms, and other digital communication services to Global Tel Link (GTL) by December 8, 2018. The change will vary between facilities. This transition to GTL means no further correspondence through JPay is possible, in addition to every inmate receiving a GTL tablet at some point, though it is unclear when each facility will be receiving tablets. Some facilities have already received tablets, while others - such as Westville Correctional Facility - will not receive theirs until major renovations to the electrical system in the facility have been completed so that tablets can be charged.

GTL sells technology products to more than 1.8 million inmates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. GTL also holds 32 state DOC contracts, including 8 of the largest 10 state DOC contracts, and the company has their eyes set on expanding further into Indiana.

Tablets will be provided to inmates in IDOC facilities free of cost, but as some on the inside say, it will be nothing more than a paperweight without the funds to utilize the tablet’s features. According to a November 2017 Indy Star article, renting a movie will cost $8; buying a music subscription will cost $25 per month (compared to an average $10 per month for a Spotify subscription on the outside); podcasts, which are free to those on the outside, will cost $9 per month. GTL will also charge $9.95 for video visitations, and $0.27 per email. GTL expects to generate $6.5 million annually through the tablets in Indiana alone; IDOC will take 10% from every purchase on the tablets and expects to net $750,000 annually. IDOC declined to discuss how this tablet revenue will be spent during contract negotiations and still remains silent on this issue.

According to political prisoner Angaza Iman Bahar (Jimmy Jones #891782), “with these tablets you are going to be able to buy all these things (at an increased price) and these guys [incarcerated people] cannot wait to turn over every dime they have to acquire all the things they believe makes life bearable behind these walls. Now they are going to give everyone a tablet for free but everything on it we have to pay for. Trust me, within that first quarter of the tablets being in our hands they will sure make their money back and then some off the all the stuff people buy.”

GTL came into the spotlight in 2017 for its involvement in the “Mississippi Prison Phone Scam.” According to a federal class action lawsuit filed on behalf of Mississippi inmates, GTL allegedly funneled bribes and kickbacks to former Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps, and GTL was allowed to maintain the inmate calling service contract without competitive bidding while also charging excessive calling fees that far exceeded market rates. GTL agreed to a $2.5 million settlement with the state of Mississippi in August of 2017 but still denies any wrongdoing.

Angaza went on to say “One of the crazy things about the whole situation is the fact that over the past five or ten years they have been slowly but surely taking away our means to access urban culture. Such as BET and VH1, where we could turn to to see the latest things happening in our culture. Now none of this is available but when these tablets get here I am sure that we will be able to purchase access to these means of entertainment. This thought hit me the other day and I was like ‘wow, these people really do play a long range game,’ developing ways to exploit us years in advance and slowly but surely implementing their moves in ways that we never really feel until it is too late.”

Another incarcerated comrade, Myron Walker (#238214), pointed out that one of the ways prisons have gotten increasingly worse in recent years is in how prison authorities have cut back on avenues for real human contact, whether it’s telephone restrictions, bans on contact visits, or photocopying and censoring mail. In place of real human contact, the prison authorities offer technological fixes that don’t really have the same nourishing effect. Myron thinks that the tablets are just one more mechanism being used to cut incarcerated people off from their outside support systems. We can see with the introduction of tablets by GTL how technology is being used by prison authorities as a band-aid over the real problem of prisons intentionally forcing disconnectedness.

With the transition to GTL, along with recent mail restrictions and other barriers, we are working harder than ever to increase access to informational and educational materials behind bars. Consider donating to our book fundraiser, which will allow inside members of IDOC Watch the materials necessary to form political education study circles in the facilities where they are confined.

You can write to Angaza Iman Bahar at: Jimmy Jones #891782, Miami Correctional Facility, 3038 West 850 South, Bunker Hill, IN 46914-9810.

You can write to Myron Walker at: Myron Walker #238214, Putnamville Correctional Facility, 1946 West U.S. Hwy 40, Greencastle, IN 46135.

IDOC Watch