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An advocacy group took out a full-page advertisement in Sunday’s New York Times, calling on the NBA and 30 of its owners to force Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores to sell his team because of his ownership of a prison telecom company.
“If Black Lives Matter, what are you doing about Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores?” the advertisement read.
The advertisement refers readers to a website that says how Gores’ ownership of Securus Technologies, which his Beverly Hills-based private equity firm Platinum Equity purchased in 2017, “undermines [the NBA’s] sincerity” about its stance on social and racial justice issues. Securus helps to set the pricing for phone calls for jailed inmates in hundreds of counties nationwide, in some cases charging more than $14 for a 15-minute call.
“At the end of the day, [Gores’] business stands in complete tension with the notion that Black Lives Matter, and that’s something he has to reckon with,” said Bianca Tylek, founder and executive director of Worth Rises, the New York-based nonprofit that paid for Sunday’s newspaper advertisement.
Critics of Securus have long complained that the charges, which are legal and sanctioned in contracts with local governments, exploit inmates and their families, who are often poor and minorities.
The NBA embraced the Black Lives Matter movement this past season by painting the phrase on its courts inside the Orlando bubble, and with players wearing social justice messages on the backs of their jerseys. Players also participated in an unprecedented game boycott after Jacob Blake was shot by police in August.
The Pistons declined to comment and referred ESPN to Platinum Equity partner Mark Barnhill for comment.
In a statement released to ESPN Sunday, Barnhill, through a spokesperson, said “[Gores] is directing any personal profits from Securus to reform efforts in this area.” He was not able to provide the amount.
Barnhill responded to Sunday’s newspaper advertisement by saying, “Our commitment to the community and to social justice is visible every day,” citing the company’s work with numerous Detroit-area programs and nonprofits. Securus is committed to shouldering “the heavy lifting necessary to transform the company and the industry,” he said
In a statement to ESPN, an NBA spokesman said the league has been in “regular communication” with Gores regarding Worth Rises’ concerns, and pointed to the work Gores and his colleagues have done with nonprofits focused on prison reform. “We support their efforts to address these important issues,” the spokesman said.
Tylek said one in three families goes into debt “trying to stay connected to a loved one behind bars,” citing a 2015 study conducted by a collection of nonprofits focused on reforms within the nation’s criminal justice system.
Black people make up 13% of the U.S. population but account for 40% of the roughly 2.3 million people incarcerated in the nation’s prisons and jails, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based research and advocacy group that uses the most recent census data from 2010 to compile a racial breakdown of who is behind bars.
Tylek told ESPN she sent a demand letter to the NBA’s league offices on Dec. 10, addressing her concerns about Gores to both commissioner Adam Silver and the league’s board of governors.
A league executive responded Thursday, Tylek said, telling her the NBA appreciated her “passion for reform, which we know is shared by Mr. Gores” and encouraged her to have a direct dialogue with Gores and Platinum Equity.
Tylek and Platinum Equity both told ESPN that they were in contact with each other last year, but each blames the other for a breakdown in communication.
In a January 2020 press release naming a new chief executive officer, Securus and its parent company announced a series of reforms and said it had lowered the average cost of prison phone calls by 30% over the previous three years. The company also pledged an additional 15% reduction in rates in the next three years.
“The company pledges to work with all our institutional customers to broaden rate relief for more consumers,” Securus said at the time.
Securus also pledged to donate $3 million in 2020 to efforts to reduce recidivism and to hold quarterly meetings with families and individuals impacted by incarceration.
Securus charges more than $14 for a 15-minute call in several counties, according to rates provided on the company’s website. Tylek’s organization has asked Securus to lower its rate for a 15-minute phone call to 75 cents. In 2018, she and other advocates successfully campaigned to make phone calls free for inmates housed in New York City jails.
Securus says its recent rate reductions have lowered the average price of a call to less than 15 cents per minute.
Advocates for criminal justice reform have long maintained that high fees on phone calls are barriers to inmates remaining in touch with their outside support systems. Strong family relationships can often help lower recidivism rates, according to the 2015 report compiled by a collection of nonprofits.
The Federal Communications Commission has proposed lowering rates on interstate phone calls to 14 to 16 cents a minute from 21 to 25 cents, and has called on state governors to address the “too-often exorbitant rates and fees” for inmates making in-state calls. The FCC does not regulate rates on intrastate calls.
“We are opposed to the notion of anybody making money off of incarceration,” Tylek said. “The idea that anybody is going to privately build wealth off of people who are incarcerated, we don’t support because those companies have a vested interest in people’s incarceration.”
This isn’t the first time Tylek has targeted Gores. In October, Gores resigned from the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art after Tylek co-signed a letter criticizing his ownership of Securus.
Tylek is encouraging people to sign a petition, which she intends to take to the NBA in order to pressure the league to force a sale of the Pistons or to pressure Gores’ company, Platinum Equity, to divest itself of Securus.
“In his current position and how he’s currently building his wealth and what he’s doing to our communities, he shouldn’t be allowed to own one of our favorite basketball teams,” Tylek said.
Source by www.espn.com