by Chad Marks
In a lawsuit filed on January 29, 2019, Securus Technologies, Inc., one of the nation’s two largest prison telecom companies, accused the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) of ignoring provisions of the Florida Constitution when exercising budgeting and appropriation powers, and doing so at the expense of prisoners and their families.
Securus had provided prison phone services to the FDOC for over a decade. The company also owns JPay, which provides money transfers, video calling and other services for Florida prisoners. In December 2018, the FDOC awarded a 10-year telecom contract to the company’s main competitor, Global Tel*Link (GTL).
In its lawsuit, Securus claimed the contract was improper because it had offered the best value to the state as required by Florida procurement laws. It lost the FDOC contract, Securus argued, because GTL agreed to provide $150 million worth of goods and services to the state’s prison system that the Florida legislature had decided not to fund.
Securus contended that its reply to the FDOC’s invitation to negotiate (ITN) showed that it was the top-ranked vendor by the Department’s evaluation team, as it offered the best phone services and lowest calling rates, which serve to ...
by Kevin Bliss
In November 2018, Shelby County, Tennessee – which includes the City of Memphis – renegotiated its contract with Global Tel*Link (GTL), the phone service provider for around 5,000 prisoners at the county’s four detention facilities. The new contract eliminates charges for all calls between juvenile offenders and their families or guardians.
The contract change fulfilled a campaign promise by newly elected Mayor Lee Harris not to support government fleecing of the public. County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, chair of the Law Enforcement, Fire, Corrections and Courts Committee, said she was also reviewing the county’s contracts with companies that provide food services and goods sold to prisoners, to find ways to improve them and make them more affordable.
“It goes towards how we’re humanizing criminal justice in Memphis, so that kids can not succumb to depression or isolation and continue to stay in touch with their families – which is a big part of reducing recidivism,” Sawyer said.
Shelby County and New York City are now the only two jurisdictions in the United States that provide free phone calls to some of their jail prisoners; New York made all jail phone calls free last year ...
By Victoria Law, Truthout
Imagine paying $20.12 for a 15-minute phone call. That’s how much a call from the Jennings Adult Correctional Facility in Missouri costs.
In 2013, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set price caps on interstate calls from jails, prisons and detention facilities. Now, interstate calls can cost no more than 21 cents per minute (or $3.15 for a 15-minute phone call). Two years later, in 2015, it did the same for intrastate (or in-state) calls, which make up 92 percent of all calls from incarcerated people. Prison phone providers filed lawsuits challenging these restrictions and, in June 2017, a federal court ruled in the phone companies’ favor. The ruling means that intrastate calls are not subject to FCC regulation and rates fluctuate wildly depending on each facility’s contract with the phone provider.
Jennings isn’t the only local jail with outrageous phone prices. The Arkansas County Jail charges $24.82 for a 15-minute call; in contrast, the same call from the state’s prisons costs $4.80. In Michigan, a call from the Benzie County Sheriff’s jail costs $22.56, but $2.40 from the state prison.
Even when phone costs aren’t as exorbitant, they still add ...
by Matt Clarke
In a monthly meeting held in the ballroom of an Austin hotel on August 24, 2018, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice – the agency that establishes rules by which the Texas prison and parole systems operate – voted unanimously to reduce the cost of phone calls made by prisoners from a maximum of $0.26 a minute to $0.06 a minute. The Board also increased the cap on the length of calls from 20 to 30 minutes. The ruling went into effect on September 1, 2018.
The move came as the Board debated a new prison phone contract for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). The new seven-year contract was awarded in a competitive bidding process to current TDCJ telecom provider CenturyLink, based in Monroe, Louisiana. It requires the company to update existing equipment and install video visitation systems in 12 facilities located in major metropolitan areas. The $0.06-per-minute rate applies both to in-state and long distance phone calls at all TDCJ facilities.
“This is great news for families who are stressed by incarceration both financially and emotionally,” said Jennifer Erschabek, executive director of the Texas Inmate Families Association, who ...
by Derek Gilna
On July 18, 2018 the New York City Council passed Introduction No. 741-A, which ended the practice of telecom companies profiting from providing phone services for prisoners at inflated rates. Instead, all domestic calls made from the city’s jail system, including the Rikers Island complex, will be free for both prisoners and those receiving the calls.
For over a decade, prisoners’ rights advocates have fought against the exorbitant costs of prison and jail phone calls. [See, e.g.: PLN, Oct. 2018, p.1; Dec. 2013, p.1; April 2011, p.1]. A percentage of the revenue generated from prisoner calls is typically returned to the corrections agency that contracts with the telecom company. That was the arrangement New York City had with its jail phone service provider, Securus Technologies, which gave the city $5 million in annual “commission” kickbacks, resulting in inflated phone rates.
The legislation passed by the City Council states: “The city shall provide telephone services to individuals within the custody of the department in city correctional facilities at no cost to the individuals or the receiving parties for domestic telephone calls. The city shall not be authorized to receive or retain any revenue for ...
by Derek Gilna
The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey has certified a class-action lawsuit against Global Tel*Link (GTL), one of the nation’s largest prison telecom companies. According to the court, the plaintiffs – including prisoners and their family members – alleged violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, the Federal Communications Act, the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the New Jersey Public Utilities statute, as well as unjust enrichment.
Prison Legal News has extensively reported on the abusive arrangement whereby correctional agencies and telecom service providers enter into kickback-based monopoly contracts that result in inflated phone rates charged to prisoners and their families. [See, e.g.: PLN, Oct. 2018, p.1; Dec. 2013, p.1; April 2011, p.1].
The district court noted that in 2005, the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) sought bidders to provide Inmate Calling Services (ICS) at all state prisons. AT&T won the bid and assigned the contract to GTL.
Under the agreement, GTL was to pay the DOC “site commissions,” defined as “a straight percentage of all originating billable revenue.” Those fees, the court said, led to “higher calling rates, and incentivized GTL ...
by Steve Horn and Iris Wagner
A comprehensive set of public records obtained by Prison Legal News from the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) and most of the state’s county jails indicates that the average cost of local and in-state phone calls made by Washington prisoners has steadily increased in recent years.
The records also demonstrate an ongoing shift toward video-based calling in county jails, which in some cases has resulted in the elimination of in-person, face-to-face visits. PLN uses the term “video calling” because “video visits” implies people are actually visiting each other rather than seeing their images on a screen. The records procured by PLN further indicate that some of the money generated from phone and video calling revenue at county jails, which is placed in Inmate Welfare Funds, is used to pay the salaries and benefits of jail employees instead of benefiting prisoners.
These developments have occurred despite the state’s proclaimed desire to lower phone rates for prisoners and, ironically, are partly due to a cap on interstate (long distance) prison and jail phone rates imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Using Washington’s Public Records Act, PLN obtained and reviewed telecom contracts for the Washington Department ...
by Dale Chappell
Although prison phone service providers and law enforcement officials won their lawsuit to block the FCC’s $.11-per-minute cap on intrastate (in-state) prison phone calls [see: PLN, July 2017, p.52], states can still lower the rates – to even below $.11 per minute – and some have done so. Interstate (long distance) phone rates remain capped by a 2013 FCC order at $.25 per minute for collect calls and $.21 per minute for debit and prepaid calls. [See: PLN, Dec. 2013, p.1].
Governors and city and county officials have the power to stop the price-gouging of prisoners and their families by prison telecom companies, said Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, which publishes PLN and directs the national Campaign for Prison Phone Justice. While a number of states have lowered prison phone rates, at the county jail level “things are really a disaster,” he noted.
Many counties continue to charge $15, $18 or even more for a 15-minute intrastate call. The problem is “commission” kickbacks from phone service providers, noted Aleks Kajstura, legal director for the Prison Policy Initiative. Whereas government agencies usually contract with a vendor that can provide the ...
by R. Bailey
Prisoners and their families in York County, Pennsylvania are outraged that Global Tel*Link (GTL), one of the nation’s largest prison and jail telephone service providers, has contracted with the York County Prison under a “commission” arrangement that provides kickbacks to the county through inflated phone rates.
At least 11 states have prohibited telecom companies from paying commissions to their departments of corrections, since commission-based contracts result in higher rates that are an unfair burden on prisoners’ family members. [See: PLN, Dec. 2013, p.1]. Pennsylvania state prisons charge $0.06 per minute for phone calls.
Records obtained by The York Dispatch, as reported in September 2017, indicate the $0.25 per minute charged by GTL at the York County Prison, “plus various billing fees,” would amount to $900,000 in annual commissions for the county – all paid for by prisoners and their family members. Aleks Kajstura, with the Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative, called those rates “unreasonable.”
Notably, high prison and jail phone rates are being charged in a market where non-prison telecom companies provide flat-rate unlimited calling, texting and emails for about $40 a month. In response to pressure from prisoners’ rights advocacy ...
by Monte McCoin
On May 2, 2018, attorneys with Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), the Legal Services Center at Harvard Law School and the law firm of Bailey & Glasser LLP filed a lawsuit against Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson and Securus Technologies, Inc., alleging the county jail’s phone contract with Securus constitutes an illegal kickback scheme.
“The excessive costs that are imposed on families by these payments are unlawful attempts to exploit vulnerable Massachusetts prisoners by commercializing their contact with the outside world,” said NCLC attorney Brian Highsmith.
According to court documents, between August 2011 and June 2013, Hodgson’s office collected $1.7 million in commission kickbacks from Securus. The telecom company paid the Sheriff’s Office a lump sum of $820,000 to cover 2016 through 2020.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs claim Hodgson and Securus are violating state consumer protection laws.
“What consumers are being charged has no relationship to the actual cost of providing phone service,” said Bonnie Tenneriello, a staff attorney with Prisoners’ Legal Services. In comparison to a call from a Massachusetts state prison at $0.10 per minute with no fee for the first minute, a ...