For many years prisoners and their families have bemoaned the exorbitant rates charged by companies that provide telephone services to the incarcerated. Prisoners and their families, two groups chronically economically disadvantaged, have been abused and taken advantage of time and time again when merely trying to stay in contact. This is plainly unacceptable from a prisoners’ rights standpoint and a social morality standpoint, too. But it gets worse. As we delve into the murky waters of prison phone contracts, those who do not yet understand how insidious and extortionate these contracts truly are, will come to demand for change, not for their own sakes or for society’s, but based upon a moral conviction and the desire to help keep families together, a term of incarceration notwithstanding.
The problem with prison phone contracts ironically enough doesn’t hinge on the various departments of corrections or the Federal Bureau of Prisons. It isn’t even promulgated by prison phone providers either. The issue, instead, has to do with the awarding of prison phone contracts.
Prison phone contracts are awarded based on a profit share model. Companies such as Global Tel Link agree to charge prisoners and their families high phone rates and to share profits with either the local jail or prison, or the central administration of the prison system. As such, the incentive to lower phone rates is actually reduced. Instead, both corrections’ departments and prison phone providers strive to tack on as many fees and increased prison phone rates as much as possible to increase profits, as has been reported frequently in Prison Legal News and at the Prison Law Blog. Often, these contracts are awarded to the prison phone company which offers the largest kick-back rate. In fact, prison phone companies are known to also give premiums away to encourage contracts. Local jails have been known to receive free booking computer systems. Sheriffs have been known to receive campaign donations. And police departments have received free police cruisers.