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!

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 24 Mar 2016 @ 4:52am

    Rip someone off and they get mad, go figure

    So basically if the prisoners learn that the company could and should be charging drastically less than the company is charging, they might get angry... yeah, can't possibly imagine why such blatant greed might result in prisoners getting upset.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2016 @ 6:35am

    If they will riot about getting cheaper phone service,

    what coud we expect if their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote is restored? Mass sebuku with sharpened toothbrushes?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 24 Mar 2016 @ 6:52am

      Re: If they will riot about getting cheaper phone service,

      Felons are allowed to vote in my state. I can't even begin to describe the rioting that occurs when election time rolls around.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    yankinwaoz (profile), 24 Mar 2016 @ 6:37am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2016 @ 2:34pm

      Re: Where do the kickbacks go?

      they go to dirty judges and prosecutors that focus on filling up prisons more than about if the people they are sentencing are actually guilty.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Capt ICE Enforcer, 24 Mar 2016 @ 6:40am

    Easy fix

    We should put computers with Skype in the cells. Eliminating the high prices and while allowing a better service to help keep them content.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2016 @ 8:24am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      joe, 24 Mar 2016 @ 11:27am

      Re: Easy fix

      How will guards monitor the conversations?
      will video be recorded?
      how will the facility control how many times the inmate can use skype?
      How long are inmates allowed to use skype?
      Does anything go in the video?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2016 @ 12:13pm

        Re: Re: Easy fix

        This is Skype. Everything is recorded, so it's a win-win-win. Guards have access to a free incrimination tool, families don't have to worry about extortionate costs, and the prison telco doesn't have to worry about damage to their equipment.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 24 Mar 2016 @ 9:58am

    You know why there are contraband cell phones in prison... here's a hint: It's not for the Hello Kitty/My Little Pony screensavers (at least I don't *THINK* it is)....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2016 @ 12:35pm

    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..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 24 Mar 2016 @ 10:29pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2016 @ 2:33pm

    maybe instead they should have said they cannot gurrantee prisoners safety on the stairs unless they are allowed to continue to exploit them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2016 @ 10:49pm

    Intra State

    Are there services in the US that allow you to call an intermediate number before being forwarded to your actual call in order to get different rates? Could that be used to call a number in the state to be forwarded to another state at little more than the intrastate price?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 25 Mar 2016 @ 12:11pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.