Oregon DOC: Remove Obstacles to Communication for Prison Families

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Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) is in the process of switching communication providers from Telmate to CenturyLink during June 2020. This has introduced a long list of problems that have made it much harder for Adults in Custody (AICs) and family members to stay in touch with each other. We have lost services we have come to rely on to maintain our families and relationships, and had to deal with a confusing and overwhelmingly complex and broken system. 

The following are 10 small and large changes that would restore the capabilities that we used to have, and remove obstacles that were introduced with the switch.

  1. Require CenturyLink to make an app for Mac and iPhone, and fix the problems with their Windows app, or make a browser-based app that could work on any computer or phone. ODOC signed a contract with CenturyLink to provide video visits. Apple iPhone has around 40% market share of smartphones in the US. CenturyLink is simply not providing the service they agreed to provide. Video visits are essential, especially during the pandemic.
  2. Add the messaging option with CenturyLink that allows for instant messages and video attachments. CorrLinks is very slow, and complex to sign up for. It is inadequate as the sole means of messaging. With Telmate, we had instant messages that many used to communicate throughout the day.  It is hard to overstate how much this system meant to many of us who relied on it for the comfort of regular and consistent connection, to say good morning or good night, and to have predictability by being able to send a quick message to say "call me" or "I won't be able to call today". CenturyLink offers this option through their subcontractor Edovo
  3. Remove the 30 minute per day limit that AICs can compose and read messages on their tablets.
  4. Expand the time that AICs can use tablets to what it used to be, so AICs can check and send messages before work as they used to (at facilities where AICs leave for work).
  5. Retain the Access Corrections message system that allows messages to be printed and handed to people in solitary/segregation. This is the only method for any communication faster than postal mail with people in solitary confinement. Or, allow AICs in segregation to use tablets or use the phone. Punishing through loss of connection punishes families just as much.
  6. Make messages free to send for AICs like they used to be.
  7. Install more phones so there is no more than a 15 minute wait during the busiest time/day for that facility.
  8. Simplify the validation procedure for ICSolutions and remove the requirement to have a credit card and/or phone bill with a US address. This was not necessary previously and makes it unnecessarily difficult for families to stay in touch. Connections between many AICs and family members are often already tenuous and any additional impediment can mean these connections just don't happen. It also makes it almost impossible for people in other countries to get validated.
  9. Remove the $1.95 fee to deposit money into the AIC Communication account through Access Corrections. This is an 8% surcharge and represents a 20 minute phone call. Additionally, make it easier or even possible for people in other countries to add money to ICSolutions to pay for video visits. 
  10. Create a position of Family Connection Advocate to review all changes to communication and connection policy and systems and review complaints going forward, so this kind of thing does not happen again. 

DOC states on their website that "Research shows that inmates with strong family ties and support networks are more likely to succeed upon release." Due to the Covid-19 pandemic visiting has been closed for months (since March 13). Now more than ever, families need to be able to stay in touch via electronic communication. 

Prisons already make it extraordinarily difficult to maintain connections, and Oregon should not make it even harder than it already is.

Colette Peters and Oregon DOC: Show you actually care about supporting family ties and implement these changes.