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An inmate talks on the phone at San Quentin State Prison, California, June 8, 2012. © REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Everybody knows prisoners are routinely ripped off by the phone provider/dept. of corrections contracts across the States. Yet, it’s not something I’ve dealt with in depth here at Prison Photography (except for a brief bout of disgust toward a foolish Gaga music vid.)
Why does the cost of telephone contact matter?
Research has routinely showed that the maintenance of family ties during incarceration is the biggest factor in helping former prisoners break the cycle of recidivism and imprisonment.
“Currently, the high rates charged in most states can force the families of incarcerated people to choose between keeping in touch with a relative behind bars and putting food on the table,” says Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative.
The Prison Policy Initiative, recently published The Price To Call Home: State-Sanctioned Monopolization In The Prison Phone Industry, an extensive report on the exorbitant telephone charges levied upon prisoners. The details are shocking. Non-competitive – and arguably corrupt – agreements exist between private phone companies and the state prison systems with whom they contract.
“Prison phone companies are awarded monopolies through bidding processes in which they submit proposals to the state prison systems; in all but eight states, these contracts include promises to pay “commissions” – in effect, kickbacks – to states, in either the form of a percentage of revenue, a fixed upfront payment, or a combination of the two,” writes Drew Kukorwoski, the PPI report author.
The vast differences in phone rates is evidence enough of a piecemeal and unregulated approach. PPI details:
“In many states, someone behind bars must pay about $15 for a fifteen minute phone call. […] Rates vary widely between states — even between states that use the same prison phone company. A fifteen minute long-distance phone call from Global Tel*Link costs $2.36 in Massachusetts, but that same call costs more than $17 in Georgia. This large difference in rates originates in large part from the wide range — anywhere from 15% to 60% — in the size of kickbacks that prison phone companies pay to state governments.”
One day after the release of the PPI report, Costly Phone Calls for Inmates, a New York Times editorial noted that New York state prohibited the practice of kick backs and that the Federal prison system uses a computerised and affordable phone system. Such examples lead me to think that there is no excuse for the flagrant extortion of millions of prisoners and their families.
So, which are the companies behind this ignored corner of the prison industrial complex? What does this monopoly look like? Kukorowski for PPI:
“Over the past few years, three corporations have emerged to dominate the market. 90% of incarcerated persons live in states with prison phone service that is exclusively controlled by Global Tel*Link, Securus Technologies, or CenturyLink. The largest of these corporations, Global Tel*Link, currently has contracts for 27 state correctional departments after its acquisition of four smaller prison phone companies between 2009 and 2011. Global Tel*Link-controlled states contain approximately 57% of the total state population of incarcerated people in the United States. Government regulation was designed to control this kind of corporate domination over a captive market.”
The report was cited in a letter from Congress members Reps. Waxman and Rush to the FCC.
“Affordable phone calls home are a proven way to reduce the high social and economic costs of incarceration and recidivism. Inmates’ families have been waiting for relief for almost a decade. It’s time for the FCC to take action,” said Rep. Waxman.
Last week, the Prison Policy Initiative mobilized the corporate accountability organization Sum Of Us to organize their members to sign a petition to the FCC.
“Tens of thousands of their members have already signed the petition, and we’ll be delivering the petitions to the FCC soon,” says Wagner
WHAT TO DO?
Take action with Sum Of Us.
Take action with Thousand Kites.