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Bell and Ontario, let’s talk about how much you profited from prison calls

You can’t get much lower than exploiting vulnerable people. When there’s a power imbalance, which there almost always is in such a scenario, it’s even worse. When the power imbalance is extraordinary, such as between a government and massive corporation on the one hand and inmates on the other, the exploitation passes beyond the boundary of the grotesque. Sad as it may be, it ought to come as no surprise that the government of Ontario and Bell Canada managed to sink just that low.


In 2020, Michael Spratt argued in Canadian Lawyer that Bell was “profiteering on the backs of Ontario’s prison population.” He juxtaposed the company’s cynical mental-health marketing, “Let’s Talk,” with the mental-health-crushing high fees it charged through the OTMS. Spratt explained that “our prisons are Dickensian hellholes” and noted that, according to the auditor general’s report in 2018-19, a third of inmates were flagged for mental-health issues, which made Bell’s prison-phone system particularly ironic, given Let’s Talk.

He wasn’t the only one pointing out the problems with the system. A few years back, Marsha McLeod did a deep dive for TVO Today into the OTMS and what needed to change. This came just after Bell lost its bid to keep the contract, which went instead to U.S.-based Synergy Inmate Phone Solutions Inc. She explored the potential problems with Synergy, which might be better than Bell but came with its own red flags. Activists, scholars, and former inmates, including those McLeod spoke to, have noted that free calling would be a much better option for prisoners. Seems like a no-brainer. The fact that the government and corporations are profiting off inmates is unjust no matter what the price point of a call happens to be.


Read David Moscrop’s full story: TVO

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