Friday, November 16, 2012

Feds may belatedly regulate rates on jail phone calls

According to Bloomberg News ("Prison phone rate cuts considered by US regulators," Nov. 15), "U.S. regulators are considering rate caps and other steps to lower jailhouse telephone rates." This primarily affects just two companies, because the nationwide market for jail and prison phone services:
is dominated by two private equity-backed companies, Global Tel*Link Corp. and Securus Technologies Inc.

Castle Harlan Inc., which owns Securus, declined to comment, Michael Millican, a spokesman, said in an e-mail. Caroline Harris, a spokeswoman for Global Tel*Link owner American Securities, in an e-mail declined to comment.

The companies bid for exclusive contracts to provide telephone service, agreeing to pay as much as two-thirds of calling charges to government or private prison operators. Those commissions can drive fees to levels that make it difficult for prisoners to maintain contact with spouses, children and parents. ...

Global Tel*Link, based in Mobile, Alabama, has about 50 percent of the correctional-phone services market, followed by Securus with almost 30 percent, according to Standard & Poor’s. 
Dallas-based Securus Technologies, notably, is the company providing phone service to TDCJ. So Grits was interested to read that federal regulators appear primed to reduce the profit margins of this oligopoly:
U.S. regulators are considering rate caps and other steps to lower jailhouse telephone rates that enrich private equity firms as they cost U.S. prisoners and their families as much as $17 for a 15-minute call.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski yesterday proposed information-gathering that could lead to a vote to intervene in the $1.2 billion prison-phone market, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said at a rally today.

“For far too long, friends and family of the incarcerated have had no choice but to pay unconscionably high long-distance rates,” Clyburn told demonstrators seeking lower rates who gathered outside the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

Clyburn, like the chairman a Democrat, said the proceeding was started by Genachowski and could lead to lower rates “soon,” without specifying a timeline. Rate caps are among steps being considered, said two agency officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter hasn’t been made public.
 Better late than never, is all Grits has to say about that.

9 comments:

Oatmeal for Brunch said...

“For far too long, friends and family of the incarcerated have had no choice but to pay unconscionably high long-distance rates”

Other choices: write a letter, visit in person, email (allowed by Travis County), bond the Defendant out pending trial (Travis County routinely issues $20 personal bonds), or, best of all, provide a supportive environment that serves to deter said loved ones from ever ending up in jail for an extended period in the first place.

I'm continually amazed with how we can turn any issue, no matter how trivial, into a crusade in this country!

Prison Doc said...

I'm no fan of crusades either, but though the public is generally unaware of it, convicted offenders and parolees/probationers are liable for a vast number of usurious fees and charges.

Phone rates are a ripe target, I hope it is a target that gets shattered though I am no fan of the Obama administrations preferred rule by executive fiat.

Another area that is criminal is commissary charges, at least in private facilities--think double or triple what you'd pay at a store, and you only receive a micro-mini size package. At least the TDCJ commissary is pretty reasonable.

The barriers the government places in front of the offender is a real hazard to successful re-entry. It always burns my bottom for unknowing members of the public to speak of probationers/parolees "getting off light". They don't know the half of it.

Cereal for Dinner said...

Decent insight from the Prison Doc.

However, it may just be the case that the "unknowing members of the public" think shelling out $10 for a travel-size bottle of shampoo is a small price to pay (or karmic excise tax, if you will) compared to the the physical and emotional damage inflicted upon the offenders' victims (the obvious exception here is drug offenders, who shouldn't be in jail anyway...legalize and regulate already!)

The sad truth is, problems with "the system" perpetuate entertaining blogging and righteous soap-boxing, so let's not try to fix everything at once.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:06, it's the offender's family paying excessive commissary fees and phone charges. You're wanting to punish the wrong people, for somebody so enamored with karma.

Force Majeure said...

The Karmic Excise Tax, when added to other fees that are required, should just be a fee too far.

People who have not been in a prison or around prisoners have absolutely no idea how devastating prison is--the danger, the degradation, the lost time, the sheer boredom. Some may think that is just fine especially for serious aggravated or capital offenses: so be it. But unless the "unknowing members of the public" really want to create a huge, dependent, expensive, and dangerous permanent underclass of released prisoners, they better think about it and lighten up.

Anonymous said...

Statistics have proven over and over again that if you treat someone with respect and dignity behind bars, the chance of them being a productive member of society when they are released are increased ten-fold. Let us not forget that the families of loved ones are paying for the crime too.

I hope you never walk our path. It is painful and humiliating and there is no guarantee how anyone will turn out, regardless of how they are raised.

PopTarts for Lunch said...

"12:06, it's the offender's family paying excessive commissary fees and phone charges. You're wanting to punish the wrong people, for somebody so enamored with karma."

An off-hand, food-for-thought, parenthetical reference to Karma hardly constitutes infatuation!

I shouldn't be surprised, though. It's been awhile since the APD-Grits "Tazer brandishing (or not)" controversy, so I had forgotten about Grits' penchant for hyperbole.

Just kiddin' Grits. Keep up the indefatigable blogging. My mind is the better for it.

Helga Dill, TX CURE said...

What Texas inmates and families are paying for phone calls is 23 cents per minute . The company providing the service paid 23 million to install the phones in units that were not outfitted for the additional phoneservice. The only way we could get the service period , is by setting aside 10% of the proceeds for the victims compensation fund. As it looks now, the company will break even by the end of 2015. I for one prefer the 23 cents per minute than to have to travel for a visit every other week. We now have the opportunity for the inmates to call their loved ones at a cellphone number rather a land line , which eliminates the need for such a landline.
I wish people would educate themselves a little more before they start complaining. It took a long,long time to even get this phone service.

sean88 said...

Thank you for the information Helga!