Social Question

filmfann's avatar

Were you aware that many call center calls were handled by prisoners?

Asked by filmfann (44460points) June 10th, 2014

So I am watching Law & Order, and part of the plot involves the fact that many call centers are using currently incarcerated prisoners to talk to customers who call companies with contracts with these prisons
I am wondering what companies use these call centers.
Would you think twice now about calling a call center?
Should these centers be required to identify themselves before you give them your credit card number or social security number?

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36 Answers

Seek's avatar

no personal information is displayed to the prisoners, who don’t have access to computers, officials said.

So, they’re not taking over-the-phone payments. It appears, from what I’ve read, they’re most likely doing inside marketing, where a corporation will bill another, and not direct marketing which requires an immediate transaction.

I’m more concerned that these prisoners are being paid a mere $0.50 an hour, when there are non-prisoners who would be willing to take those jobs for a reasonable pay rate.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Many prisoners are actually pretty cool people. I used to teach in a jail, and for about a year they brought prisoners from actual prisons in for us to house at the jail. Those that became my students were my very favorite pupils, and I’m still in touch with a few of them.
The trouble comes in when they’re on the streets and using drugs and alcohol, which they don’t have access to in prison. It can be dangerous though, because they may be cool people, but they are also often quite intelligent and crafty. They could strike up relationships outside of the walls…

Well, @Seek….maybe paying those prisoners next to nothing makes the customer’s bills less due to less wage overhead. And maybe it reduces the tax payers overhead for those prisoners. It may be that they are paid minimum wage, but only get $.50 of it and the rest goes to the prison. But I don’t really know.

janbb's avatar

I wonder if we could generate more good questions and answers by turning Fluther over to prisoners?

chyna's avatar

^How do I make a shank out of a toothbrush?

JLeslie's avatar

I had no idea. I do hope they are getting paid a decent wage. I hope if they are in jail for stealing they are paying what they owe the person they stole from. When my husband’s car was stolen the thief sent my husband a small check once a month for two months. Then they let him out of jail and we never saw another penny.

janbb's avatar

What do you think is behind the picture of Rita Hayworth?

Dutchess_III's avatar

A shank sharpener @janbb.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Modern slave labor, it is big business.

JLeslie's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central It really is unbelievable isn’t it? First the prisons are being privatized and now possibly the prisoners are being paid nothing for doing work for private companies? Gawd, I hope they get at least minimum wage. But, I guess since they live for free you have to deduct something? I really wonder how that all is divided up?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Exactly @JLeslie. They live for “free” but somebody is paying for it. If there is a way for them to pay their own way, I’d be all for that.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

As if the Prison for Profit scam wasn’t bad enough. These guys are getting it on both ends, from the government dole to the corporate clients.

Some pretty smart fellers figured out how to legalize slavery.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@JLeslie But, I guess since they live for free you have to deduct something?
They are not really living free if you count they have to have some person look up their butt every time they come from work as well as other lost freedoms and embarrassments. They are only living free because we the people decided they should be there by laws voted in or allowed to stand unchallenged; it is a byproduct of that process.

jca's avatar

All the more reason not to answer the phone when you see an unknown caller.

LornaLove's avatar

As long as they do the job I don’t care.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I would love to be able to use my money to vote against America’s for-profit slavery incarceration scam system, so yeah, they should be disclosing which companies are using prisoners. Unbelievable.

johnpowell's avatar

When my mom was in prison in Salem (90 minutes from where I live) she was put to work as cheap labor. Here is the odd part. The company using her as slave labor was Spectra Physics and they made supermarket scanners.

My best friend and his brother and their father worked for the company. So eventually I found out that my best friends brother was actually my moms boss at the factory inside the prison. Eventually they managed to put things together. I think my mom enjoyed this since she would get daily updates from Nate about how my sister and I were doing. Kinda like a letter every day. I was pretty much hanging out with Nate every night at the time.

But yeah, the pay was shit. She got around 70 cents a hour. And the prison commissary is super expensive. She would bitch that a packet of Top Ramen was a dollar when I could get the same at Safeway for 10 cents.

Strauss's avatar

Are these prisoners in “corporate” or “corporate-run” prisons?

johnpowell's avatar

According to Wikipedia the one my mom was public since Oregon does not allow privately run prisons.

“The state of Oregon does not have private prisons,[3] and as of 2001 outlawed the practice of exporting state prisoners to other states.[4]”

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

I wasn’t aware but my only concern would be the ‘slave labour’ aspect. I doubt they have violent criminals on the other end of the phone. I’m fine with people in prison being able to do real work and hopefully get training for work they can do when they’re released. I watched a programme here the other day that showed prisoners making furniture for retailers. I’m fine with that.

I won’t know I’m talking to a prisoner so it wouldn’t affect me at all. Can’t be any worse than talking to someone in Mumbai who perhaps doesn’t have great English.

ucme's avatar

I love the feeling of pwning cons on xbox live, best part is, they have to go back to there cell after feeling owned & I get to bang the wife…good times.

johnpowell's avatar

Their.. Shit job considering you invented the language.

ucme's avatar

Calm down man, a typo isn’t a crime…no, wait!

johnpowell's avatar

No worries. I’m drunk and it was a joke.

ucme's avatar

Nothing new there then, joking, it’s good for morale.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

There is a large call center company that has contracts with prisons to use inmates for call center employees. I do not like it.

elbanditoroso's avatar

I’m trying to think why I should care. I call a call center to get something done – buy something, ask about something, get a return number, whatever it is. Why do I care if it’s in a prison in Michigan? In fact, I would prefer talking to an English-speaker in the US than talking to someone I cannot understand who is answering the phone in India or in the Phillipines.

So my initial answer is “so what?”

The prisoner pay issue is kind of a silly red herring. The fact is that the prisoner is there because they did something against the law and were convicted of it, whatever it is. Prisoners have had work details since the 1850s – building railroads, cleaning trash off roads, constructing gardens and public places, making license plates, and so on and so forth. The prisoners at the call centers today at least are inside and having some sort of almost-white-color skill, as opposed to digging ditches. This is a big improvement over prisoners in the past.

So again, I ask, “so what?”

This question – prisoners in call centers – reminds me of some other questions (GMO plants for example) which are asked to scare people and make some populist statement, but when you dig down, there is really nothing there.

JLeslie's avatar

@elbanditoroso The fear regarding pay would be keeping people in prison longer, or putting them there when it isn’t warranted, so big corporations can have cheap labor. We already know of cases where prisoners are kept in prison because of money. There was a famous case regarding juveniles where two judges in Pennsylvania were sending kids to jail for ridiculous reasons and kept them there, because the private jail system was making everybody money. Those judges are now in jail, but not before having really done horrible things to kids and their families.

Seek's avatar

@elbanditoroso – I care for the same reason I care that corporations are shifting their call centers and manufacturing to Asia. Instead of providing jobs for people in their own country who need them, they are circumventing the whole reason their well-fed arses are coddled by our government: Providing decent jobs for hard-working Americans. So instead of helping out our economy, they are collecting their share and dropping it off in some tax haven, and the workers’ share is going either to Asia or the coffers of some other wealthy goodfornothing that owns the prison.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Prisoners are people too. The ones who are working most likely enjoy it. It’s a break from the mind numbing boredom of prison.

@Earthbound_Misfit Welcome to Fluther!

jca's avatar

@JLeslie: That’s one of the negatives regarding privatizing the prison system. Abuses abound and the cost of the stay is not cheap, either.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca If the emoloyers are actually paying the same wage as they would to people who are not in jail, but the prisoner earns less, because part of the money goes to pay for housing them, it might not be terrible, but only if the jails are run by the government. If the jails are private then the money is circling around from one corporation to another and it is scary. Just like the medical scenerio with hospitals charging high fees and insurance companies white washing it and passing it on in the form of premiums and copays.

Strauss's avatar

IMHO for-profit prisons have a similar conflict of interest as for-profit health organizations or for-profit charter schools, or for-profit insurance companies. The mandate of any corporation is to create a profit for its owners, the shareholders. The means of realizing that profit is (and should be) secondary to providing any service. Anything that impedes that profit is (and should be) minimized or eliminated. Decisions are made with the profit, the bottom line, as the prime directive. Anything else (e.g., inmate well-being, health care delivery, student achievement, insurance premiums) are relegated to secondary consideration. To be sure, in most cases, delivery of a quality product will contribute to the bottom line, but when the quality of the product is not easily determined (how many years does it take to determine a drop in recidivism?) it can be very tempting to “take the money and run”.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@johnpowell But yeah, the pay was shit. She got around 70 cents a hour. And the prison commissary is super expensive. She would bitch that a packet of Top Ramen was a dollar when I could get the same at Safeway for 10 cents.
Incarcerating people in the US is big business; many people are lining their pockets off of it. I don’t know if Bob Barker corp. supplies shoes and jumpsuits for all of the US but they have a lock on Cali. Some Australian company makes all the plastic chairs, the flip-flops come from some company in China, and the commissary makes a killing selling sodas and other goods at premium prices. To even call out to loved ones some company is making money because you can’t dial direct, you have to call through them. When my niece got picked up on a no appear warrant for traffic court in So. Cal. She could not even reach us without going through some outfit called TelNet. They took her down there for free but would give her no help getting back to North Cali so Amtrek made money there. Whoever supplies the roman noodles, I am sure they supply the whole state, that means it is bought in super bulk; I am sure if broken down it cost whoever less than $.05 a noodle packet, but the commissary has a markup of over 1,000%. T-paper suppliers are making money, the waste management trash collectors, the electric company, and that is before you even get into the salaries of the Sheriffs watching the inmates or that of the correctional officers. Prisons are cash cows because you have a captive audience that has no choice but to deal with the system.

@Earthbound_Misfit I’m fine with people in prison being able to do real work and hopefully get training for work they can do when they’re released. I watched a programme here the other day that showed prisoners making furniture for retailers. I’m fine with that.
That will not likely happen. Here in Cali the ”vocations” offered by the prison suspiciously always deal in areas that support the prison; landscaping (eliminates most civilian gardeners), textiles (eliminates most outside garment and uniform workers), mason , tile setting, and plumbing shop (that will keep skilled and maybe union plumbers, tile setters, and concrete workers at home and their high salaries as well), dry-cleaning shop (you not only avoid higher priced dry cleaners, but the staff has access to dirt cheap dry-cleaning for their clothes and uniforms). The kicker is none of the skills learned are going to be enough to overcome their record in many cases, a company would still chose to outsource to a foreigner than hire them, and they can get a cheaper worker to boot. It practically sets the newly released felon up for failure where he will end up back in the system so they can make money off his hide for another stent of time.

@elbanditoroso So again, I ask, “so what?”
Because you never know if or when you will end up behind bars, many who are serving there did not plan to be there or thought they were breaking the law until they were arrested. You could be in a hurry and driving faster than the limit on a stretch of road, then have someone or some other vehicle jump in front of you from nowhere and you plow into them. When the dust settles, you have killed the other driver, that puts you at risk for manslaughter, and that can make you one of those ”so what, why should I care” people.

jca's avatar

At the jail here, inmates cannot bring in their own deodorant, soap, shampoo, toothpaste. They have to purchase it at the commissary. They sell Lander products, which you see in almost any dollar store. If the products are in the dollar store, that means they actually cost, at wholesale, about 25 cents tops. They sell them for about $4 each at the commissary. A huge markup. The inmates have no choice, and no voice. The families are not united enough to advocate for themselves. You don’t like it, don’t buy it, and deal with the consequences (rotten teeth, smelling, oily hair). This is an example of being at the mercy of the system.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca I had no idea. I would have thought they were just provided things like shampoo.

rory's avatar

I don’t have much to add, but thanks @filmfann for bringing this to my attention. I always try to be polite to call center staff, but now I will pay closer attention to my behavior and make sure I don’t jump down peoples’ throats for not giving me the answers I want/services I want, etc.

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