It has been 16 months since I last wrote about JPay and GTL in my 9/23/19 letter titled “Captured Clientele”. I think the time has come to talk about these companies again because these two companies have an outsized impact on prisoners, their loved ones and how states approach rehabilitation. Their impact isn’t always beneficial either, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Today’s letter isn’t about trashing JPay or GTL, that’s not what this blog is about, but I will give you an honest take on both. JPay and GTL each have their positives and negatives.
Let’s Talk About JPay First
As I write this to you I am relying upon my 4th JPay tablet in the past 7 years, which to be honest is pretty good. However, I am more careful and cognizant of my tech devices than most prisoners, and I know many who have had to buy more than 10 of these overpriced and outdated tablets in the same time frame. These tablets aren’t cheap. On average they cost us–well our families, most inmates have no money of their own–around 140.00. These aren’t devices like the ones you have in your hand right now. They’re outdated, old generation surplus or refurbished devices that JPay has acquired from various suppliers. I am writing this post on a 5th generation Samsung tablet built around the Android operating system. For me, this is the most high-tech device I’ve personally owned in the past 3 decades of incarceration. For other prisoners, these devices are a step back in time, especially for the men and women who have come to incarceration recently.
In my 2019 letter “Captured Clientele” I detailed JPay’s services for inmates and their families. Ohio prisoners were in their 4th year with JPay and the problems and incredibly poor service prisoners and their families were forced to accept was endemic. I wrote:
“The quality of their services are poor and their customer service is the worst imaginable. JPay frequently sells apps, music, and videos to us that will not download or that they don’t even carry anymore. They then stall, lie or outright refuse to refund your money when you contact customer services for assistance. I know it sounds incredible, but it’s true nonetheless.”
Nationwide JPay offers inmates access to custom music and movie catalogs, custom email and video visitation services, electronic games and self-help videos amongst many other things. The offering your loved one will have access to depends wholly on the contract JPay inked with the state. For example, prisoners in Ohio may not have access to the same JPay services as prisoners in Michigan and vice versa.
Since I’ve been dealing with JPay as an Ohio prisoner it has been an exercise in frustration. JPay knew they had terrible issues, and they even acknowledged this in an email to Ohio inmates. In 2020 we were told that the CEO was leaving and new leadership would right the ship. I was skeptical to say the least.
It’s now 2022. Has anything changed? Yes. Videograms and Video Visits work most of the time now, their customer service has made positive strides (not saying you won’t still bang your head dealing with them), and overall JPay, at least from an Ohio perspective, is greatly improved.
Unfortunately for JPay, it’s too little too late. Ohio is dumping them, and GTL is taking over electronic services for all 50,000 Ohio inmates in 2022. This means that all of Ohio’s 50,0
00 prisoners who’ve purchased these tablets, invested hundred and in many cases, thousands of dollars in JPay purchases (music, games, movies, videos etc) over the course of their incarceration will no longer have access to JPay kiosks for routine maintenance of their tablets and purchases, which is critical for us.
Why? Because thousands of Ohio inmates can’t even load all of their electronic purchases onto their tablets because we are limited by the device memory. With JPay we are able to keep our music and other electronic purchases in JPay’s cloud service and download them to our devices when we desire, delete other files back to the cloud to free space etc. If we lose access to JPay’s cloud service what then? No one seems to have an answer. Staff at my facility don’t know because JPay doesn’t seem to know. This is De ja vu all over for Ohio prisoners.
Years ago we lost another electronic service provide, in this case Access Corrections. At the time we were able to purchase MP3 players from Access Corrections and music from their service via a dedicated stand-alone kiosk at Ohio facilities. When Access Corrections lost Ohio’s contract to JPay years later every Ohio inmate lost access to Access’s kiosks for device maintenance. Eerily similar to what is about to happen with JPay. My MP3 player has thousands of songs I purchased from Access Corrections at 1.40 each, and the device no longer works due to a software issue. The operating system encountered a glitch (which was common back then, but easily resolved by plugging our devices into their kiosk for maintenance), and now the device is inoperable and has been for about a decade. Access Corrections no longer replaces or fixes Ohio inmates’ devices. Is this what is in store for Ohio’s JPay inmates? There are other states too that are leaving JPay, and those state’s prisoners face this same dilemma.
When states switch from provider to provider the cost is born by prisoners and their families. It’s a fact that’s kept very quiet. JPay is quick to tell our families and friends that when your loved one gets released he or she can send their tablet to JPay (along with 25 dollars) to be unlocked and to have all their media sent to them. That’s fine and dandy if you’re an inmate on a short sentence, but what if you’re a lifer? What if your sentence spans years? Answer: your loved one is S.O.L.
Now Let’s Talk About GTL
GTL has been around for decades and is probably the better known service provider. GTL originally got its start by offering collect call services to jails and prisons. They’ve since branched out into the lucrative area of inmate services like those of JPay. If you go to my letter “Captured Clientele” you will see videos I recorded showing you JPay and GTL tablets.
Nationwide GTL offers inmates access to custom streaming music and movie services, custom email and video visitation services, electronic games and self-help videos amongst many other things. The offering your loved one will have access to depends wholly on the contract GTL inked with the state. For example, prisoners in Ohio may not have access to the same GTL services as prisoners in California and vice versa.
GTL has a better track record than JPay. We have both GTL and JPay in Ohio at the moment. I like GTL’s services, their pricing, their customer service. Ask most Ohio inmates and you’ll likely hear similar agreement. Put simply, GTL is a better run company than JPay. To be fair, I’ve heard horror stories about GTL from prisoners elsewhere in the country, but this is not my experience..
Both JPay and GTL make their profits off the backs of inmates and their loved ones. Those of you reading this who have a loved one incarcerated already know what I’m talking about. From a rehabilitative optic I’d say that services offered by both companies have a positive impact. However, this should be stated with an asterisk. If you’re a prisoner with no money and no outside financial assistance from friends or family, JPay and GTL have zero positive impact. Since states are increasingly relying upon these types of companies as part of their educational and rehabilitative efforts, it can be argued that more harm than good is done to indigent inmates.
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You can now own every letter from this blog’s inception through April 2020 in the book titled “Behind The Wall: A Prisoner’s Journal” by Christopher Monihan. Available on Amazon in paperback and eBook. This book contains the writings of dozens of prisoners from around the country in addition to Christopher’s and Felicia’s.
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