This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Orange County Central Men’s Jail.
Now to respond to your request for information about how the pandemic has impacted people in the OC jail(s). When the pandemic first hit in 2020, the jail promptly used to the jail’s advantage. What I mean by that is family visits were immediately suspended (which are done through plexiglass using telephones and therefore posed no risk of transmitting the virus).
Such visits are a substantial inconvenience to the Orange County Jail, because they must be supervised by deputies and they create opportunities for family to physically observe “inmates” (a euphemism for “prisoner” used to convey the idea that the prisoners here are being treated humanely). Visits also create opportunities for prisoners to convey grievances to family members, who may then attempt to remedy those grievances through communication with the management staff of the jail or community advocates.
Many prisoners are barely literate, and their families may not be able to afford the telephone charges to be able to speak to prisoners. To use jail telephones, family members must set up an account with the company that contracts with the sheriff’s department Global Tel Link, and pay rates of 14 cents to 21 cents per minute. Also, once the account is set up, family must pay a deposit each time to fund the account with a 25 cent minimum, of which GTL immediately takes 20 percent.
(GTL is a corporation with hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue. GTL ensures its relationship with sheriffs throughout the country by secretly recording prisoners’ attorney-client phone calls and giving them to the sheriff’s deputies who then listen to them and/or provide them to prosecutors. This has been discovered in Orange County, California and Pinellas County, Florida. See articles in the Orange County Register by Tony Saavedra.)
The jail also suspended visits from clergy. Only attorneys were allowed to visit. In April of this year, the jail began allowing one family visit per month by appointment only, even though local non-essential businesses have been allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity or more for months. Before the pandemic, a family member could visit weekly without an appointment during regularly scheduled hours Friday-Monday inclusive.