Prison services titan Securus Technologies has been developing and implementing its much lauded video visitation technology over the last decade with great success. It has quickly gone from beta testing to being installed as the main inmate communications system in over 2300 institutions from coast to coast. While the user interface may seem at first glance to be quite similar to other peer-to-peer video chatting applications, the back-end infrastructure is much deeper and is the product of an enormous investment of resources.
But the fact that many mistake is for “prison Skype” is actually a welcomed outcome. While seamless end-user operation is certainly a design goal, making the interface intuitive and familiar, the military-grade infrastructure that powers it is anything but quotidian. The problem arises where inmates and families perceive the lean and competitive costs of video calls to be exorbitant. They note that Skype and similar applications allow for free VoIP calls. “Why isn’t the similar prison service free?” they ask. This overlooks the tremendous costs of operating a secure communications infrastructure that engenders some of the same considerations and threats as a battlefield communications system. Prison video visitation is not Skype. And companies that approach it with that mindset put lives at risk.
Prisons are low grade war zones
It’s not accidental or inappropriate that the gangs who populate the U.S. prison system refer to their newer members as “soldiers” or “foot soldiers”. The gang leadership often uses military rank structures. Besides being known as “shot callers” many of the top ranking gang members are referred to as “generals” or “lieutenants”.
What prison guards understand that civilians often don’t is that these are highly organized, motivated and tactically competent groups in numbers that can pose not just an immediate existential threat to the institutions in which they’re housed, but to society at large. If one coded message from the Mexican Mafia slips by one inattentive guard, innocent people outside prison walls can die.
That’s why Securus has a military-grade back-end infrastructure capable of recording and automated monitoring of all video calls. It is a hardened system using state-of-the-art encryption, meaning outside attack or unauthorized access is virtually impossible. Real time monitoring lets officers monitor high-risk communications as they happen. And Securus has its own call processing center that is completely separate from main telco backbones, giving total control over all traffic and making outside attack vanishingly unlikely.
While these measures increase end-user costs slightly, they keep institutions and the public safe. Securus will continue to develop technologies to ensure the institutions it serves are the safest in the world.