Hopefully You’ll Never Need to Use Polycom’s High-Tech Prison Phone
Here on the outside, we like our phones with chamfered edges, wraparound OLED screens, and slim builds. In the clink, however, there’s a whole different set of desired design elements.
The Polycom RealPresence Videoprotect 500 is a videoconferencing phone made for correctional facilities. As such, it needs to be able to withstand more than just your occasional sidewalk drop. It can’t just have a 22-inch 1080p display with an HD camera mounted on top of it; it has to have a 22-inch 1080p display protected by a quarter-inch-thick sheet of high-impact PETG thermoplastic. That makes the screen practically smash-proof—even if you whack it with the phone’s super-durable handset.
The 14-gauge steel housing for the videoconferencing box has special screws so that makeshift screwdrivers can’t be used to pop it open. The Videoprotect 500 box uses Pin-Torx screws, a big and heavy-duty fastener that’s similar to the pentalobe screws on the iPhone. And it should be noted that the volume buttons mounted beside the handset are “vandal-resistant.”
This phone doesn’t have a touchscreen or the ability to run apps, but life behind bars isn’t entirely bereft of the wonders of modern technology. For example, there’s a hands-free mode: The system can be programmed to work without the handset, and it one-ups your speed dial by automatically calling a number once the handset is lifted. While there’s no way to check Instagram, firmware updates keep the system current.
“All our customers need is a broadband connection,” says Russ Colbert, Polycom’s director of the federal government market. “Any next-generation applications added are done so via a software upgrade.”
While the Videoprotect 500 is designed primarily for correctional facilities, many other industries use it too—places where they may need a durable video kiosk outside, such as shopping malls or courts. In prisons, the phone isn’t just for personal calls and tele-visitations. It’s used for video arraignments, attorney consultations, inmate testimonies, and bail hearings. It’s also used in situations when an inmate is deemed a transportation risk.
“The courts and corrections community is very budget-constrained,” says Colbert. “We work with the Michigan Supreme Court, and the court has saved more than $2.8 million in prisoner transfers. For a 15-minute prisoner hearing, it’s a 12-hour drive from the courtroom in Lansing. The estimated cost of transferring each prisoner escorted by two guards is approximately $1,800.”
If you want to pick one up for yourself, rest assured you won’t need a case for it. However, keep in mind that it weighs 55 pounds and has an MSRP of around $15,000. You can find sweet deals online for about $8,500, but it only comes in gray—no rose gold here.