The Catalog of Carceral Surveillance: Prison Gaming and AR/VR Services

No matter how many rights are taken away from people in prison, no matter how brutally they are treated by the prison industrial complex, there is one right so fundamental, so essential, that even controversial prison telecommunications company Securus can’t bear to see it violated: the right to find new ways to extract money from prisoners and their families. 

In one of their newest patents, granted February of 2021, Securus describes their latest revolutionary technology. A tablet, which would be issued to individual inmates to allow them to make video calls, access information about their case, and give them the opportunity to pay money for temporary access to video games. WIth this new invention Securus re-asserts their determination to extract every last penny from incarcerated people. Just because you are in prison doesn’t mean you get a pardon from the insatiable maw of capitalism. 

Not only is this tablet useful for extracting money from prisoners. Securus also proposes that it can also be used as a biometric surveillance device. According to the patent: “the monitoring system may be configured to collect sensor information from the resident communications device in order to detect unsafe conditions during a gaming session. For instance, the monitoring system may collect sensor information from the resident communications device indicating a level of stress or agitation by the resident during game play. One or more gyroscope sensors included within the resident communications device may be used to detect unsafe handling of the resident communications device. Heart rate and blood pressure information detected by sensors worn by the resident may be transmitted via RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) to the resident communications device.”

Taking this to its logical conclusion, the sensors and biometrics in such a handheld device could be used as an indicator of a prisoners mood, if the prisoner gets excited or angry at the game the system could determine that the prisoner is uncooperative or a recidivism risk, this data could potentially be used in parole hearings or when deciding to give punishments/rewards to prisoners. If Securus has its way, your “gamer moment” could land you in trouble and even then you will have no escape from micro transactions. 

Global Tel-Link

Not to be out done, Global Tel-Link has filed a patent for a VR service for prison inmates. It would, according to their own dystopian description, allow the prisoner to, “for a brief time, imagine himself outside or away from the controlled environment.”  

Global Tel-Link primarily intends for this prison VR system to be used as a replacement for prison visitation so that inmates could interact with friends and family in a controlled and monitored virtual environment. All of which Global Tel-Link would presumably charge for. 

But prison inmates aren’t the only one subject to monitoring and technological “assistance” from Global Tel-Link. The company has also filed a patent for Augmented Reality to assist and surveil the prison guards: essentially “Google Glass: Prison Edition.” 

A drawing of a room, with alerts indicating devices that would notify guards of contraband; below this, a drawing of individuals with their info and offenses displayed beside them

An image from the patent, Global Tel-Link’s AR device patent

According to the patent, Global Tel-Link’s AR device worn by guards would have myriad functions. It will allegedly be able to perform facial recognition on inmates and display vital details such as their name and history. It also purports to display the location of any rogue radio frequency signals that could indicate contraband cell phones. Further, it reportedly has object detection powers, and can highlight any dangerous or contraband objects such as weapons or open doors which should be closed. 

The patent also boasts that the AR devices can track prison guards. Global Tel-Link states: “In some situations, activities of guards lack monitoring, giving some staff/guards the opportunity to get involved in importation of contraband goods into the controlled environment.” Who watches the watchers? Apparently Global Tel-Link does. 

The system can also make sure prison guards are staying on task. According to the patent, the AR system “stores … a set of criteria defining whether a monitored activity is determined as ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal.’ For example, the set of criteria includes the time range to complete an assignment, the designed path for an assignment, the dwelling time at one location, the heart rate range, the regular presence locations of inmates, etc.”

We are skeptical about the ability of Global Tel-Link to fit so many advanced technologies into a wearable device, especially at a price which will be comfortable to the owners of public and private prisons. However, this will certainly one day be possible, and on that day the guard will join the inmate under the omnipresent eye of the panopticon. 

Source: The Catalog of Carceral Surveillance: Prison Gaming and AR/VR Services

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