Lawsuit reveals how tech companies profit off the prison-industrial complex

March 14, 2018

 

FEB 9, 2018

BY KATIE ROSE QUANDT

 

"On the day he was released after nearly 30 years in the California prison system, Joe Rudy Reyes was taken to a bus station. A corrections officer handed him a debit card preloaded with $442.20 — the balance in his inmate trust account, plus an additional $200 from the state to help him get home. So began a year-long nightmare as Reyes tried unsuccessfully to access his own money.

 

In January, Reyes, with representation by the Human Rights Defense Center, filed aproposed federal class action lawsuit against JPay, Inc., a prison technology giant and subsidiary of Securus Technologies, Inc. The Reyes v. JPay complaint, filed on behalf of every person who has received a JPay card upon release from prison, alleges the company’s policies are monopolistic and illegal.

According to the complaint, JPay charged Reyes a series of fees, including a $3 “monthly maintenance fee” and a $1 ATM decline fee. The card stopped working after Reyes purchased bus tickets, a prepaid cell phone, and lunch. When he called the number on the back of the card, Praxell, a company providing customer service for prepaid cards, told him his account was frozen due to “suspicious activity.” For months, Reyes dutifully followed an ever-changing set of requirements to regain access to the card, including sending a copy of his driver’s license (which had long since expired after 30 years in prison system), obtaining a notarized letter proving his place of address, and contacting his former prison. When he called Praxell one year after his release, an automated system told him the account was closed.

 

The lawsuit alleges that JPay “took full advantage of Mr. Reyes’s complete lack of bargaining power,” and outlines even higher fees on JPay release cards in other states. It alleges that “defendants have engaged in a pattern and practice of freezing accounts for supposed ‘fraudulent activity.” The complaint continues: “Defendants deliberately place additional conditions on access to frozen accounts as each condition is met, in a conscious attempt to delay a cardholder’s access to his or her funds. The longer the delay, the more maintenance and decline fees Defendants can extract from the account.”

 

JPay did not respond to a request for comment. The lawsuit also names Praxell as another defendant, as well as the card issuer, Sunrise Banks National Association.

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