Prisoners’ keen still being fleeced despite the capping of prison call rates

There was widespread public outcry when it emerged that calling any of the correctional facilities in the country was costing over ten times more than the normal rate, even for the same area codes. What was even more worrying was the fact that there are certain companies that seem to be getting the lion’s share of the proceeds that come from these exploits, and an invisible hand that supports them as they keep milking the families of the prisoners dry. Research shows that a phone call to jail would cost up to $14 per minute and families of the inmates spend up to $2000 annually to stay in touch.
While the federal communications commission seemed to have helped the situation when they capped the call rates, the reality is that nothing much came out of this move. The fact that there are still private companies offering these ICT services, and that the process used to bid for the calls is still not transparent, means that the struggle is far from over for the inmates and their families. The problem may not be the phone companies per se, it is the commissions that are demanded from them by the prison systems. The companies often find themselves having to add hidden charges to the call rates to break even after paying these commissions.
These are the abuses that the system wants to put an end to. Surprisingly, companies like Securus are threatening to act against these rulings because they feel as if their hands are going to be tied. The other ways in which the family members of the prisoners are being fleeced include commissaries that help send consumables, money transfer services that sometimes charge as high as 35 percent of the money being transferred and at times even encumbrances from fees charged as part of the sentencing.
If the system is to become fair to both the inmates and their families, some serious changes need to be done.

Families angered by high inmate calling rates, but companys’ hands are tied

Many inmates and their families have been quick to complain about the high costs of making outgoing calls from prisons. Since the inmates themselves often have no source of income, it is up to the families to deposit the money in the inmates’ commissary accounts, which allows them to place calls back home. In some cases, these charges can add up to hundreds of dollars per month.

Often times the inmates and their loved ones blame the communications companies that provide the phone service. But very frequently, it’s the prison or jail itself that is causing the high rates.

Throughout the country, many prisons and jails take a commission on every dollar spent by inmates on outgoing phone calls. Many people label these as legal kickbacks. Regardless of the terms used, there’s no doubt that they are a prime contributor to the high cost of prison phone calls.

Keeping costs low despite kickbacks

Many inmate communications companies, such as Securus Technologies, do an outstanding job of keeping costs low despite the sometimes enormous kickbacks they’re required to pay just for the privilege of being that institution’s telephone provider.

For example, Securus pays 71 cents of every dollar in revenue it generates at state prisons back to the state’s Department of Corrections. Even with such a high commission, Securus has managed to contain the average cost of a phone call in Louisiana’s state prisons to just $.15 per minute. It’s these companies that make the system work for everyone who are the unsung heroes of the prison telephone system.

FCC Back At It Again!

They don’t even leave prisoners alone these days, apparently! In a recent online news article by Tech.Mic, it appears that the FCC can just not keep to themselves or ‘just play nice’….and particularly when it comes to capping rates on the prison industries as a whole. Especially attacked are the phone communication industries within the prisons of America.


“You may have heard of the prison industrial complex, but there is also an entire industry that just manages prison phones — the Verizons and AT&Ts of American prisons. Last week, those companies gained major ground in the fight to keep them in check.” (Smith IV, pg. 1)


This fascinating new article by Jack Smith IV is available by clicking the link below.


When you some time on your hands, I highly encourage visiting this site and reading the entire article for yourself. You will be astounded and amazed at JUST WHAT EXACTLY goes on IN DEEP DETAILS, as it relates to the daily communication industry for inmates today.

Let’s just say this: the procedures and recent caps mentioned in this particular article sure have a way of making people NOT WANT TO COMMIT CRIMES AND GO TO JAIL. That is the good side of the situation.


According to the article, it appears that the prison telecoms industry itself has been pressuring the FCC and playing its own hand of cards in every legal way possible. It seems that the FCC has in turn folded to the immense and repeated pressure, proposing a “new set of caps on what those telecoms can charge vulnerable families to keep in touch with incarcerated loved ones over the phone.” (Smith IV, pg .1)


It appears that nobody ‘plays fair’ these days…not the prison industry, not the FCC itself, and not the convicted. The world’s changed.


Families of inmates claim extra-judicial punishment through high phone costs

One neglected topic resultant from America’s world-leading prison population is the externalities associated with household members being removed from society. There are many ways in which, for example, children of incarcerated fathers are adversely affected. One example is the statistical realities that children raised in single-mother households tend to have a lifelong statistical handicap, faring worse than their traditionally raised peers in almost every measure. Another is the fact that the father can no longer meaningfully provide for the family in any way.


But there are other, more subtle ways in which families, particularly children, can end up bearing the costs of a relative’s incarceration. One such example is the cost of inmate phone calls. Prison is widely thought to have as a primary goal the punishment of inmates. This includes the removal of anything that could be characterized as a luxury or an optional convenience. Many people, including many administrators, view phone calls as a luxury or an unnecessary amenity. However, the families of incarcerated fathers often view phone calls as a critical lifeline in their children’s development. And their views are backed up by rigorous evidence.


In some jurisdictions, such as the state of Arizona, prison phone costs are so high that few inmates can afford to stay in regular contact with their loved ones. But some families still foot the bills. Unfortunately, those families are often the ones who can least afford it. Decisions between nutritious eating and contacting the children’s father become routine. No matter what crime the prisoner may have committed, his children don’t deserve to be punished for his mistakes.



Private phone companies create huge value for inmates

The cost of making a phone call from any one of the nation’s prisons has, on average, been dropping precipitously over the last decade. For example, in the state of Louisiana, companies like Securus Technologies have managed to keep rates incredibly low, despite being forced to sometimes pay as much as 87 cents of every dollar they make in revenues back to the jails and prisons where they operate.


In Orleans Parish, Securus has the contract for the parish jail’s telephone service. Despite being obligated under its contract to pay 86 percent of every dollar earned, Securus has managed to keep the cost of a 15 minute phone call down to less than $3 for the inmates housed there. In fact, throughout the state, Securus has been able to keep the average per-minute costs to inmates on its phones to less than 15 cents. This is remarkable considering that it pays, on average, 71 percent of all revenues to state and local administrators.


The low costs create tremendous value for inmates. Prisoners who, a decade ago, would have likely spent their time incarcerated without ever talking to family and friends are now able to stay in near uninterrupted contact with their loved ones. Such regular contact with family has been shown to lower recidivism and reduce security problems within jails and prisons. It creates an enormous incentive for prisoners to remain on their best behavior, because the privilege of being able to talk to loved ones whenever they want is so valuable.



Inmate Communication Is No Laughing Matter

Maintaining order behind prison walls is taken very seriously. Authorities within prisons and jails use their power to grant simple necessities as a method to control their populations. Basic items such as food, bedding and medical supplies are provided to inmates in order for them to function. The communication is another valued privilege in an incarceration facility. Inmates need help from the outside in order to execute the right to talk to friends and loved ones. Inmate communication companies has developed shrewd business models in order to control this particular market. They sign contracts that give them complete access to the facility that they are working in. This prevents the customers from reaching out to other service providers to obtain a better pricing option. The rates can be paid by billing an outside source or opening an account for the inmate themselves. The end result is an expensive business relationship that is carefully managed by executives of the facilities and the communication companies.

There are several programs in place that allow customers of inmate services companies to maintain a steady account. Direct debit is commonly used. The money is billed to an account set up by the customer on the outside. The account is charged every time the service is used. Prices for this particular plan can be as much as one dollar per minute. Consumers have complained. However, they have a gained very little leverage in negotiating better rates with the service providers.

Inmates can also maintain an account that is funded by an outside source. This allows them to use the funds to make contact with whoever they see fit. This account works well for those who do not want to be directly billed for an inmate activities. The account is open for anyone to buy service for inmate usage.


FCC decision would have lowered prices for inmate communications even more

Global Tel and Securus Technologies sued the FCC for an attempt to put rate caps on their exorbitant prices at the end of 2015, according to Alternet. The companies sued the FCC because their legal representatives claimed the federal organization ignored the price of providing these calls. The judge’s ruling imposed a rate of 11 cents per minute on collect calls, a rate which is still above market prices.

Steven Renderos, the founder of Prison Phone Justice praised the decision because it included caps, but he was disappointed because it also set the caps at a rate higher than many of the families of incarcerated inmates wanted. The current higher rates do not serve to punish the prisoners. Instead, they punish the family members of inmates by forcing them to pay between $300-$500 a month to receive calls from their incarcerated family members.

The practice of gouging the families of inmates for collect calls extends beyond the for-profit prison industry. State and federal institutions use these services as well. The companies offering inmate communications services have a near monopoly, and prisons compete to use the vendor that offers the prison the highest commission percentage on collect calls. The current set-up encourages prisons to use the most expensive service providers.

The FCC decision resulted in lower rates despite the objections of Securus Technologies and Global Tel. Families continue to pay the excessive prices in order to stay in touch with their incarcerated loved ones. Despite the imposition of rate caps, this is unlikely to change. Securus responded to the rate cap on interstate calls by raising the rates it charges for its intrastate calls. Rick Smith, CEO of Securus, blames the rate increases on the commissions his firm pays to prisons to provide communication services.

GTL Produces Another Landmark Communication System Within the Corrections Industry

GTL, a global infrastructure services company, has recently released its brand new inmate calling system across the U.S. The new inmate communication system allows for centralized communications and features a state-of-the-art user interface which has never been seen before. GTL’s platform allows correctional facility customers to access inmates through tablets and smartphones.

Since mobile devices are the preferred method of communication these days, GTL thought it prudent to allow inmates to enjoy the same ease of information and communication that their friends and family do.

What is more, family and friends can easily contact their loved ones within any correctional facility, easily and safely. They simply deposit money into the inmate’s account with the touch of a screen and speak with her through video or text messaging.

Is the platform safe?

The new inmate calling system is completely secure. As customers dial into the system from a wireless device, from anywhere in the world, they enter into a privately secured network and enjoy the same secure features as the inmates do within the facility itself.

GTL’s inmate communication system leads the correction’s platform telephone market in safety and communication efficiency with over a thousand functions and features, all aimed at protecting the general public and securing inmate phone calls.

What have all those security and technological features added up to so far? Well over 3.3 billion inmate call minutes successfully and securely served!

Aside from having the most secure communications platform in the correctional facility industry, GTL’s telephone system is the most advanced as well. With new user upgrades and enhanced mobility features, customers can easily manage the interface platform while feeling safe and secure through all of its functions, at all times.

GTL Unveils Major Release of Inmate Telephone Platform (Learn More)

About GTL

GTL, mostly known for its infrastructure services around the globe, prides itself on its telecom achievements. As part of its telecom segment, the company provides telecom services and support to telecom operators, tower companies, and correctional facilities throughout the world.

Some of the main telecom services GTL provides include:

Network Planning
Network Design

When it comes to correctional facility technology, GTL stands head and shoulders above the rest. The company’s correctional communication platforms are revolutionary in their scope and vision, and offer economic solutions that add value to both inmates and correctional facility staff members alike.

Currently, GTL provides for roughly 85% of the inmate communication services nationwide.

Families of Inmates are Feeling the Sting With Recent Rate Increase

Families of inmates suffered a huge surprise in June 2016. The rates per minute increased. It was already costing family members $1 a minute to talk to their loved ones. Now with the new rate increase, it is going to cost families more to be able to stay connected with their loved ones.

America currently houses over 2 million prisoners. Each one of these prisoners communicate with their family and friends on a weekly basis. The average 15 minute call could be as much as $15. The reasoning behind the prices being so high is because of contracts and deals of revenue sharing with the sheriffs.

Mignon Clyburn, FCC Federal Regulator says that this is the most horrendous case of failure within the market they have seen. The FCC had voted in 2015 for caps on the rates to prevent price gouging. But this only helped with out of state calls. If a prisoner made a phone call from the state they are incarcerated in to another state, the rate cap would come into play. But if a prisoner made a call within the same state that they are incarcerated in, then the rates are based on the discretion of the sheriff and the telecommunications provider.

Securus Technologies is the predominant telecommunications provider in the prison system. They have increased the rates to compensate for revenue loss. The end result is that family members are feeling the strain with the new rate increase.

The advocacy group for inmates, HRDC, went to the FCC and filled out a complaint about the recent increase in rates. Within the complaint it had stated that numerous families around the nation has seen an increase on their phone bill. Securus Technologies reported to the International Business Times that it had grossed $531 million in revenue in the year 2015.

In Greeley, Colorado, the county jail phone rates increased over 50% for a local call. In Holdenville, Oklahoma, the phone calls made locally increased over 40% in a day’s time. The one thing both of these jails have in common is that both have contracts with Securus Technologies.

Mixed Fortunes for San Luis Obispo County Jail Inmates after Slashing of Calling Charges

Inmates at San Luis Obispo County Jail and their families and friends can now be connected through calling services at a much lower charge than they have been used to. However, the new rules have their downside as well. The county will no longer afford to finance programs that it considers important to the welfare of the inmates as well those mandated by the state.

The Impact of Inevitable Losses

With an annual loss of about $162, 000, the county jail is facing difficulties in providing such services as educational courses, legal resources, vocational programs, counseling, treatment for drug abuse inmate patients and even transportation. Only two options remain: the inmates have to be content with the few services the jail can afford or more funding have to be sought from Board of Supervisors.

Although the regulations have been considered for a long time, their full impact on the jail programs will just begin to be felt. While the county has been earning a 56 percent commission from the gross income obtained from the calling service, it has now been dropped to 17 percent. This translates to $0.05 per minute of the $0.30 a minute flat rate charged for the inmate call services.

Crippled Programs

The county runs the Inmate Welfare Fund with the use of a big chunk of revenue obtained from the calling service. According to Tony Cipolla, the sheriff’s spokesperson, commissions from the phone charges accounted for approximately 67 percent of the fund in the 2015-2016 fiscal year. Therefore, it is about $ 211,000 of the $315,000 needed to operate the fund.

Although the reduced calling rates are a great relief to inmates and their loved ones, they will have a great impact on their welfare as the programs under which most of the services are offered will be crippled. The only remaining source of income for the jail is the commissary which brings in around $104,000 – an equivalent of 33 percent of the amount required to run the fund. The money is earned from sale of personal items to inmates. They include stationery, hygiene necessities and snacks.