Friday, November 14, 2014

Contractors press behind the scenes to preserve profitable contracts with Dallas justice system

A coupla stories about vendor contracts in Dallas caught my eye. At the county level, Texas Lawyer reported (Nov. 10) on Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins' failed attempt to halt a "high profit" jail contract with Securus for provision of phone service, though he did succeed in preserving in-person visitation at the jail, at least for now.  The article closed with news that the FCC may soon end profiteering off jail phone calls:
The outcome "illustrates the incredible power" that companies like Securus have over public officials nationwide, when they offer potential revenues for local governments from jail calls, Jenkins said.

Richard A. "Rick" Smith, CEO of Securus, did not return a call for this story by press time. A press release posted Oct. 31 on the company's website states that in the past 10 years Securus "has collected and remitted to jails, prisons and state, county and local governments over $1.3 billion in the form of commissions. Commissions are collected from inmates and their family and friends on outbound telephone calls that Securus completes over its proprietary inmate calling platform. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) eliminated commission payouts on interstate long distance calls effective Feb. 11, 2014, and will likely eliminate or significantly reduce intrastate commissions early in 2015 in an effort to reduce calling rates, provide more affordable calling and reduce recidivism."

The release quotes Smith, who states: "Clearly these commission payments that have been used to fund critical inmate welfare programs and support facility operations and infrastructure have improved the lives of inmates, victims, witnesses and individuals working in the correctional environment, and helped to fund government operations. And it appears, sadly, that regime may come to an end in the not too distant future. …We have been a vocal advocate of maintaining commissions and have spent approximately $5 million in legal fees and other costs on behalf of our facility customers over the last decade to maintain commissions, but the FCC maintains that it is not good public policy to have the poorest in society help to fund government operations, even though the programs funded are worthwhile. … If commission payments are eliminated or reduced—we are advocating a transition period that will allow our facility customers to secure funding from other sources or some type of phase-in of the new rules so as not to impact our facility customers—that phase-in is important and we have discussed that with the FCC on numerous occasions."
It's a virtual certainty Dallas isn't the only county in Texas that would be forced to readjust phone contracts if the FCC says they must cease mulcting inmate families for in-state phone calls. Lots of jails have similar, profit-centered phone contracts, quite a few with Securus. (See more from the Unfair Park blog about the video visitation issue.)

Meanwhile, the Dallas City Council narrowly voted 8-7 to change contractors for court collections, reported the Dallas Morning News (Nov. 12), snubbing a vendor who'd contributed significant sums to 12 out of 15 decision makers. The article opened:
The Dallas City Council narrowly approved a staff recommendation Wednesday to hire a new company to collect delinquent municipal court fines.

In an 8-7 vote, the council awarded the contract to Municipal Services Bureau. Alone among six bidders, MSB guaranteed the city that it would collect from deadbeats — $21.9 million over three years. If collections fall short of that target, the company said, it will pay the difference out of its pocket.

Some council members wondered how MSB could make such a promise when no one else did. And some praised the work of the current collector, the law firm of Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson.
Linebarger’s bid was ranked third by the city staff. The firm, which has been in the collections business for more than 35 years, is known throughout Texas for its political connections. It has donated thousands of dollars to City Council members, including Mayor Mike Rawlings.

Of the 15 council members, 12 have received money from Linebarger. The three who have not are Jennifer Staubach Gates, Sandy Greyson and Lee Kleinman.

Those three voted to accept the staff recommendation and award the contract to MSB, as did Rawlings, Rick Callahan, Scott Griggs, Sheffie Kadane and Philip Kingston.

Opposing the MSB bid were Jerry Allen, Monica Alonzo, Tennell Atkins, Dwayne Caraway, Carolyn Davis, Vonciel Jones Hill and Adam Medrano.
One notices MSB doesn't guarantee collections for the Driver Responsibility surcharge, where around 60 percent of assessed charges go uncollected.


He's Innocent said...

Travis County and Austin PD both use MSB to collect fines.

I will tell you how they can guarantee the collection of past due fines - they harass. They break debt collection rules all over the place. If one is not informed of their rights as a debtor, MSB will beat them up mercilessly until they pay up.

I promise.

Anonymous said...

The income from this may not be that much. Securus is totally incompetent and I suspect their equipment won't work properly much of the time.

Anonymous said...

After a confrontation with Linebarger,Goggan, Blair & Sampson - I have realized that the law of the land is ignored. These Corporation attorney's are a disease in America. What they do is treason to America. Codes, rules and regulations are NOT law. These Corporation attorney's are supposed to deal with corporations, NOT the people. This article admits to the corruption with this law firm. Political connections, bribery of City Council members, including a Mayor?