The leading player in the prison communications industry, Global Tel Link Corporation (GTL), has obtained a patent for a virtual reality system to give prisoners a taste of freedom. The patent reads that the system would enable the individual to “for a brief time, imagine himself outside or away from the controlled environment.”
“System and method for personalized virtual reality experience in a controlled environment,” the patent states. “A system and method for initiating a personalized virtual reality session via a virtual reality communication system in a controlled environment are disclosed.”
The system could be used to interact with another user in virtual reality from outside the prison. It would also send the information about each session to a “monitoring system” to keep a track of communication between the inmates and the outsiders.
The patent, however, was first flagged to Motherboard by the activist organization the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
“Global Tel Link’s patent for replacing in-person prison visits with virtual reality lays bare the company’s ultimate goal of mediating all interactions between incarcerated people and the outside world, all while finding innovative new ways to extract a few more dollars from prisoners and their loved ones,” said Cooper Quintin, Senior Staff Technologist at the EFF. “These technologies also erode any last vestiges of in-person connection between prisoners and their loved ones on the outside and provide prisons yet another avenue for surveillance.”
GTL has also previously received flak in the form of a class-action lawsuit for the company’s phone call charges.” Families of incarcerated individuals often pay significantly more to receive a single 15-minute call from prison than for their basic monthly phone service,” the lawsuit read.
This is not the first time that prisons have deployed virtual reality systems. They have already been used for rehabilitation and training before an incarcerated person’s release. The idea behind them is to get these individuals ready for life in a significantly different world from the one they may have seen last.
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