Lights, camera, incarceration

August 5, 2013 

If you took a deal to the folks on "Shark Tank" that required a $332,000 investment that would be recouped at $1 a minute from a captive audience of 472, do you think it would get funded?

St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson has that offer from Securus Technologies Inc. to provide video visitation with inmates for $20 for 20 minutes and $40 for 40 minutes. If it hits 729 visits in a month, the county gets a 20 percent commission.

The prisoner advocates of the John Howard Association welcome the service, but are worried about the prisoners being exploited. John Maki, the group's executive director, basically is saying $1 a minute is too much, that the service should be provided at cost.

Sorry, but $332,000 isn't coming out of our tax bills if we have any say in the matter. There may be some staffing advantages, but the video visits are basically an inmate convenience -- not an essential part of running a jail.

If Securus is willing to risk its money, that is great. They are entitled to a profit, if one exists, just like the folks who charge a premium to put phones in the jail for inmate use.

If the county gets a little money out of this, that is even better. However, we can't imagine in whose accounting system these few potential dollars could be considered a "profit" when taxpayers still are housing, feeding, transporting and guarding the jail inmates.

We like the sheriff's comment: "People always talk about exploitation of inmates, what about exploitation of taxpayers?"

Enough said.

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