Software Being Used to Scan Prison Phone Calls for Mention of Words Relating to Coronavirus
Date:  04-22-2020

While scanning is being touted as a way to curb the spread of Covid-19 in prison, advocates for incarcerated people view it as having a darker side
From The Intercept:

Prison Officials in at least three states are using software to scan inmate calls for mentions of the coronavirus, a move advocacy groups believe paves the way for abuse while raising stark questions about carceral health care.

The monitoring software was created by LEO Technologies, a Los Angeles company backed primarily by scandal-plagued Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy. Known as Verus, it was first deployed several years ago to forestall suicide attempts, mine calls for investigative tips, and for a range of other purposes. In recent weeks, it has been marketed as a system “that can mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across our nation’s jail and prison facilities” by alerting prison authorities to sickness-related conversations between inmates and the outside world.

“It automatically downloads, analyzes, and transcribes all recorded inmate calls, proactively flagging them for review,” explains a Verus product brochure, which also claims this “near real-time intelligence” can be used to identify sick inmates, help allocate personnel in understaffed prisons, and even prevent “COVID-19 related murder.” The brochure touts Verus’s “advanced semantics” and “proactive analysis” and provides what it says are real-world examples of Verus already at work in undisclosed prison facilities. One shows a conversation flagged for the mention of a “disease in here,” while other inmate conversations are depicted as captured for merely mentioning a “cough” or “sneezing.” “It really is a tool for providing medical surveillance,” LEO Technologies CEO Scott Kernan said. In one example listed on the brochure, however, the software flags an exchange based exclusively on what a call recipient said, not the incarcerated person — suggesting that the system might serve to monitor public perceptions of prison management and not just the health of incarcerated people. Continue reading >>>