Smart Communications offered sheriff’s department cruises, trips to Florida
Smart Communications offered sheriff’s department cruises, trips to Florida
Smart Communications, a for-profit Florida company that sells phone, video chat and email services to jails and prisons, has told at least one sheriff’s department that it can live the “resort life” on a trip to Florida.
Members of five sheriff’s offices across the country were offered cruises from “Tampa Bay to the Caribbean” as part of prison telecommunications contracts with vendor Smart Communications, according to documents obtained by The Appeal.
Smart Communications is a for-profit company that sells communications services including phone, video calls and email-like messages to people incarcerated in publicly funded prisons and jails. He contracts with the public agencies that manage these facilities, often with sheriff’s offices, to secure the exclusive right to operate them. Its CEO and founder, Florida-based Jon Logan, is already controversial among critics of the criminal justice system — Logan has faced examination for posting luscious pictures of himself on Instagram on his yacht, driving luxury cars and wearing expensive suits, among other high-profile activities funded by selling expensive communications services to inmates. At the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center, Smart Communications accusations people $3.00 for a 30-minute video call, $0.50 per email, and $1.00 per email.
Activists and inmate families have long criticized Smart Communications’ digitized mail service—which scans hard copies of prison mail, creates searchable databases of inmate communications, and prevents inmates from receiving original versions of items like birthday cards or drawings from children—as invasive and insufficiently humane.
But some of the company’s other offerings are sure to irritate law reformers: trips to Florida and cruises that depart from Tampa Bay. Sheriff’s Office of Washoe County, Nevada; Fairfax County, Virginia; Webb County, Texas; Brazos County, Texas; and Dawson County, Georgia – the five counties for which The Appeal was able to obtain contract data – awarded contracts to Smart Communications to manage telecommunications services at the jails. As part of the bidding process, Smart Communications’ proposals promised “complimentary rooms” for Sheriff’s Department personnel on the “Annual Technology Summit Cruise” that “set sails from Tampa Bay to the Caribbean” each year. The documents say the cruise provides “accredited workshops and training classes” to sheriff’s office personnel.
In a 2021 email obtained by The Appeal, a Smart Communications employee offered employees of the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office a free trip to the company’s annual training summit in Tampa, Florida from April 6-8 of that year. However, the event does not appear to have involved a cruise ship.
Representatives from the Fairfax County, Washoe County, Dawson County and Brazos County Sheriff’s Offices said members of their departments did not attend and will not be allowed to attend the Smart Communications cruise, despite their contracts allowing them to do so. The Webb County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In some cases, the contracts included language explicitly asserting the office’s right to free cruise tickets as described in the Smart Communications vendor proposal. The Fairfax County Sheriff’s contract, for example, reads: “The client will have the option to send up to 8 individuals … to attend the Annual Training Summit.” The Smart Communications proposal said the free tickets were at least $84,000.
In other cases, the right to attend a training cruise is not expressly stated in the contract. Washoe County’s contract mentions that Smart Communications will “provide initial and ongoing training for … personnel.”
In at least one case, Smart Communications’ cruises even drew criticism from a rival prison telecom provider. In an email obtained through a public records request, Bill Pope of NCIC, another firm that operates jail phones, disputed the awarding of Washoe County’s telecommunications contract to Smart Communications. Pope complained to the county clerk that he was told he was not allowed to hand out free binders to county staff because that would be considered “tips.”
“In Smart Communications’ RFP response … cruises valued at up to $105,000 were offered to Washoe County employees and family members,” Pope wrote. “Wouldn’t this also be considered a tip?”
The offices mentioned in this story may not represent all sheriffs eligible for Smart Communications travel. The company has contracts with at least 100 government agencies, according to its website. Of that number, the Complaint reached 26 of those agencies. The appeal managed to obtain documentation for five government counties.
Jails in those five counties—Fairfax County Detention Center, Washoe County Detention Center, Brazos County Detention Center, Webb County Jail and Dawson County Detention Center—incarcerated about 3,000 people in 2018, according to federal data. data. According to a Ella Baker Center for Human Rights reportmore than one in three prisoners’ families go into debt to pay for calls and visits to prisons.
Asked to comment on Smart Communications’ promises of Caribbean cruises in vendor proposals and telecommunications contracts, elected officials and activists were upset.
Virginia State Delegate Patrick Hope, who represents Virginia’s 47th District, which includes the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, told The Appeal that “[c]free Caribbean cruises are not complementary. These so-called ‘training summit cruises’ are paid for through charges in the prison contract. This is a gross mishandling of funds that… mostly come from low-income families… It may be legal, but it’s a loophole that needs to be closed.”
Bianca Tylek, executive director of Worth Rises, a nonprofit organization with a long history of activism on prison telecommunications issues, told The Appeal that the cruise deals are problematic.
“In some ways this is not surprising,” she said. “For many sheriffs, bribery is almost an accepted part of the practice. Kickbacks from these companies are like legal bribery. But there is something particularly grotesque about the idea of offering rest on the backs of people who are imprisoned and suffering.”
In response to an inquiry by The Appeal, Logan, CEO of Smart Communications, stated that the technology summit cruises never happened.
“There has never been a cruise at a tech summit,” he said via email. “So, I’m not sure what you could write about something that never happened?” Asked why cruises are mentioned in proposals to government agencies if “cruises have never happened or will never happen,” Logan did not directly answer.
Instead, he added that the company “has never done a summit cruise. However, we are constantly holding technology summits that we provide to agencies, both customers and non-customers of Smart Communications… We feel this is a useful way to inform agency leaders about new technologies and learn what pain points they have, so it can help me in innovations of new technologies.”
Logan added that The Appeal “welcomes you to visit me at our headquarters in Florida and join the technology summit and be a part of the future of innovation and reform in prison with us.”
Smart Communications’ offer of Caribbean cruises is one of the wildest examples of the decades-old phenomenon of prison and jail telecom providers offering kickbacks as part of government contracts.
Wanda Bertram, a spokeswoman for the Prison Policy Initiative, told The Appeal that the company’s actions are indicative of a larger trend in the prison contractor industry.
“Smart Communications is the most shameless player in an industry full of companies that have become increasingly creative in the bribes they offer to prisons,” she wrote.
Shawn Weneta of the Virginia ACLU made sure to point out that the system as it exists is not only borne by unscrupulous companies, but also by the public officials who continue to contract with them. Speaking about the Fairfax County Sheriff’s decision to work with Smart Communications, he states, “There’s a reason why phone calls in jails and prisons are so expensive.” He added: “And it’s not because the vendors who win the contracts are providing the best service and prices to poor families. That’s because the phone operator has to provide the sheriffs and their staff with cruises to the Caribbean.”
Smart Communications is far from the most significant player in prison telecommunications in the United States. It operates 115 facilities compared with thousands of for-profit giants like GTL and Securus, which offer multiple services including phones, video visits, tablets and email for inmates.
in the last few years, several larger cities they made prison calls free. Last year, Connecticut became the first country where calls are free wholly. Currently, the FCC can limit the cost of interstate calls, which it has limited up to a maximum of 21 cents per minute, but cannot regulate calls within the country, video or messaging, which represent most jail and prison communications. In March, the bill advanced from The US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee would allow the FCC to address these issues. The Senate has yet to fully vote on the measure.
While the cruises may not happen, Logan made it clear that Smart Communications regularly holds training summits. Invitations include paid offers to attend these summits. These events, Logan assured The Appeal, happen regularly.
A summons sent to a member of the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office includes a picture of a jet ski. Logan of Smart Communications said in a statement that receiving free invitations to such training events “is in no way dependent on doing business with Smart Communications.”
In 2021, a Smart Communications representative emailed the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia to offer “free training (… including travel, hotel accommodations, meals and field trips) held at our headquarters in Tampa Florida from 6 . until April 8th!” At the end of the message, the company emphasized that the participants will “Live the resort life”.
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