Prison Telco Claims Prisoners Will Riot If Company Can't Keep Overcharging Inmate Families

from the amoral-majority dept

For many, many years interstate inmate calling service (ICS) companies have charged inmates and their families upwards of $14 per minute for phone calls. Because these folks are in prison, and as we all know everybody in prison is guilty, drumming up sympathy to convert into political momentum had proven difficult. But after decades of activism the FCC intervened last year, voting to cap the amount companies can charge the incarcerated. According to the FCC’s updated rules, ICS companies can no longer charge more than twenty-two cents per minute — depending on the size of the prison. Caps were also placed on the fees companies could charge those trying to pay these already bloated bills.

The companies profiting off of ripping off the incarcerated have unsurprisingly been fighting the FCC’s proposal tooth and nail in the courts. Global Tel*Link (GTL) and Securus Technologies managed to win a partial stay earlier this month (pdf) that put the FCC’s per minute price caps on hold until a lawsuit against the FCC is decided. FCC lawyers have argued (pdf) the stay still lets them apply older (2013) interim price caps on interstate calls to intrastate calls until the case is settled.

In response, Securus Technologies CEO Richard Smith filed an emergency motion in federal appeals court last week (pdf) in which he tried to basically claim that if the FCC moves to prevent inmates from getting ripped off, prisoners will riot:

“This chaos and confusion about what is the correct intrastate calling rate?and the only answer is that there is no federally mandated intrastate calling rate after the Court’s March 7 Order which stayed all new rates?will carry over into correctional facilities themselves. Inmates will be angry if they believe that Securus is charging the wrong rates. There could be damage to Securus phones and equipment, as well as a threat to overall security and corrections personnel including inmates within the facilities. Having been in this industry for eight years, I have experience with jail unrest and I know that issues with the phones can trigger it.”

In other words, if inmates that have been ripped off for decades suddenly believe they’ll be facing lower rates — and Securus keeps charging the higher rates — they’ll riot. While it’s incredibly sweet of the company to be so concerned with prisoner safety, it’s odd that Securus wasn’t all that concerned with inmates rioting earlier, given these companies have been charging Mercedes prices for what’s arguably a Yugo-grade product for the better part of a generation.

Keep in mind that voice services these days cost very little to actually provide. Also keep in mind that Securus and other such companies are part of a dangerously cozy and captive market, where prisons get paid upwards of $460 million annually in “concession fees” (read: kickbacks) to score exclusive, lucrative prison contracts. As a result, the service pricing and quality are just about what you’d expect. And as a hack of Securus late last year revealed, these contracts appear to involve helping government record potentially privileged attorney client conversations (Securus just settled a 2014 Texas case claiming precisely this).

So again, ripping off consumers for years? Ok. Working in concert with government to record privileged communications? Fine. Croynistic, monopoly control over a (literally) captive audience resulting in abysmal service? Sure! Trying to prevent inmate families from having to take out a second mortgage to speak to their loved ones? Inevitable riots, safety first!

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Companies: global tel*link, securus technologies

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Comments on “Prison Telco Claims Prisoners Will Riot If Company Can't Keep Overcharging Inmate Families”

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15 Comments
yankinwaoz (profile) says:

Where do the kickbacks go?

I suspect that they aren’t wrong about damage to their equipment. It is well known that gangs control access to phones in many prisons and jails. So in addition to paying off the prison itself for a contract, I suspect that this company also has to pay extortion to the gangs that control the access. Otherwise, their equipment will get damaged in an “unfortunate accident”. Nor will they have access to their customers.

Reducing the rates this drastically won’t allow them to continue to pay the current extortion rates.

Just a thought.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Easy fix

Or mounted touchscreens with cameras. They could sign in and have access to the learning center apps and if allowed with good behavior, contact one of their approved contacts. Knowing that everything they do is monitored and recorded maybe people would come out of prison ready to become productive again.

Anonymous Coward says:

See the reason they are afraid to lower the rates, and the comment about “riots”, are due to this,,,,

The inmates have been charged 14 bucks a minute for the last 20 years. Suddenly they are only charged 24 cents per minute. Those inmates are going to be like, “I have been OVERCHARGED for 20 years” and when they do the math, ( 14$ per min, 5 minutes per day = 70 bucks per day, times 20 years is $511,000.00) and at .24 cents per minute, times 5 minutes per day = $1.20 per day, over 20 years is $8760.00… So, $511,000.00 subtract $8,760.00 The company has been ripping off each inmate 502,240.00 OVER CHARGE.. I am fairly positive that this would cause a riot. Now these numbers of course would be if the inmate actually spent 5 minutes per day EVERY day for the last 20 years on the phone. ( 1 minute per day or 7 minutes a week = is $101,920.00 @14.00per minute, and 1747.20 @ 0.24 per min respectively). You can calculate the difference, but its going to tick you off if you’re on the over charged end of the deal..

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

We can’t stop beating them because if we do then they’ll realize that we never really needed to beat them in the first place and they’ll riot over the years of beatings they’ve been given?

That sounds like prison administration logic. I suspect the reality is that the vast majority of prisoners have been very well aware that they’ve been getting screwed the entire time. Having it stop will not make them realize anything they didn’t already know.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Guilty

> Because these folks are in prison, and as we all know
> everybody in prison is guilty

Yes, actually. The vast majority of them are. The implication here is that because of that minuscule percentage that aren’t guilty of that for which they’ve been incarcerated, I’m somehow supposed worry about how much all the rest of the murderers, rapists, embezzlers, and thieves are being charged to make phone calls?

Yeah, right.

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