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Incarcerated People Lose Communications Amid Securus’s Financial Woes

The prison telecom giant charges more than a million incarcerated people significant fees to contact their loved ones. But twice in one week, the service was down for long periods.

This photo shows a zoomed-in image of a person's hands holding a tablet-sized device.
Gül Işık / Pexels

Across the country, more than 1.2 million incarcerated people and their loved ones rely on Aventiv Technologies to speak with each other—provided they pay fees to the prison telecommunications giant, which owns the brands Securus and JPay.

But, twice in one week, multiple services went down for several hours, leaving millions of people unable to message their loved ones, call each other, video chat, send funds, or even log in to their accounts. 

The Appeal asked Aventiv why the outages occurred, what the company is doing about it, and whether it will compensate people affected by the interruptions. 

A spokesperson for the company did not respond to those questions and provided only a general statement.

“We experienced a service interruption and are working with the highest priority toward restoring them fully,” wrote Securus spokesperson William Berger. “Similar to other service providers, we periodically experience downtime. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience.”

After effectively defaulting on more than $1 billion in debt earlier this year, Aventiv is on the verge of bankruptcy. Aventiv is owned by the private investment firm Platinum Equity and operates in hundreds of prisons and jails nationwide. 

The price to talk to friends and family depends on where someone is imprisoned. In recent years, a handful of states have passed legislation to make phone calls from prison free up to a certain length of time. But in many more states, Securus charges between $0.14 to $8.25 for a single 15-minute phone call.

In March, civil rights attorneys sued Michigan’s St. Clair County and Securus for banning jail visits in order to profit from video visit fees. The lawsuits allege the counties conspired with Securus and another prison telecom company to exploit incarcerated people for profit. 

The lawsuit states that in-person visitation is banned in 16 Michigan jails that contract with Securus. In St. Clair County, one 20-minute video call costs $12.99, according to the complaint. Phone calls cost $0.21 per minute. 

Incarcerated people make as little as 8 cents an hour for their labor in prisons. Some states even force incarcerated people to work for free making products sold at Target and Walmart. 

If incarcerated parents want to stay in touch with their children, they or their families must pay private companies such as Securus. These fees can force families to make an impossible choice between staying in touch with their loved ones or being able to pay their bills.

Scores of people on social media platforms—including TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit—expressed their frustrations this past week with the company’s captive hold on users and repeated outages.

“Figure it out! We spend so much money on this garbage app talking to our loved ones, the least you could do is have it actually work for us for ONCE,” one person wrote on Securus’ Facebook. “Always the same thing with you guys!!” wrote another. “We pay for a service that don’t work!!”