This week, the Prison Policy Initiative filed comments urging the FCC to take steps to lower jail phone costs and stop unfair practices by the correctional phone industry.

by Stephen Raher, September 29, 2021

On September 27, Prison Policy Initiative filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission, explaining what the agency should do to lower phone costs for people in jail and address unfair practices in the correctional phone industry.

For nearly two decades, the FCC has worked in fits and starts to address high prices and other problems with communications services in jails and prisons. In May, the commission slightly lowered rates for some callers and announced its intent to further revise the rules applicable to the phone companies. This week was the deadline for parties to file comments on the next round of new rules.

Our comments provide the following new evidence to help guide the FCC’s decision-making:

We also make several legal arguments, urging the FCC to:

  • Lower the amount that companies can charge as “ancillary fees” (for things like depositing money into a prepaid phone account).
  • Reduce consumers’ phone bills by waiving Universal Service Fund taxes on prison and jail phone calls.
  • Crack down on deceptive practices that steer people to unnecessarily expensive options. For example, someone who was just arrested will probably not know about the confusing calling options, and phone companies often encourage people to pick the most expensive option when calling their family to ask for help.
  • Not make family members pay for facility security costs through their phone bills (for example, expenses like monitoring phone calls and maintaining lists of blocked numbers).
  • Collect more data that will allow the agency to refute some of the long-running (and factually suspect) arguments made by the dominant correctional phone companies.

Several other allies filed comments as well. Replies are due at the end of October, and it will likely take the FCC months or even years to issue new rules.

by Wanda Bertram, September 10, 2021

As people in jail and their families struggle to stay connected during the pandemic, we’ve collected the data on the exploitative prices families are forced to pay in Wisconsin for phone calls with incarcerated loved ones. This data already sparked an investigative report last month in the Appleton Post-Crescent.

People in jail in Wisconsin are charged different rates for phone calls depending on where they are locked up. In some jails, rates are as high as $14.77 for a 15-minute call–nearly a dollar a minute. The revenue fills the coffers of jails and of their corporate partners (who actually provide the phone service), Post-Crescent reporter Chris Mueller explains:

Brown County, for example, gets 54% of the revenue from phone calls made at its jail, totaling about $34,800 in January, about $32,000 in February and about $42,200 in March.

Other counties get a larger share of the money. Chippewa County, for example, gets 76%, totaling about $2,600 in December, about $3,100 in January and about $2,600 in February. Barron County gets 82%, amounting to about $2,400 in December, about $1,400 in January and about $1,700 in February.

Meanwhile, the people who pay are low-income, working-class Wisconsin residents:

“I don’t know anyone who has an incarcerated loved one who doesn’t work more than one job,” said [Peggy] West-Schroder.

West-Schroder would typically spend at least $20 a week on phone calls, though that amount would vary if her husband was transferred to a different facility or, for whatever reason, had limited access to the phone.

TMJ4, a Milwaukee news station, recently ran another powerful story about the consequences of making jail phone calls expensive. The story focuses on a woman named Ouida Lock, who has two sons in prison, and was forced to spend nearly $6,000 on phone calls over eight years. As Lock says in the story: “I can’t even fathom how much money has been spent. I know I could have bought a house by now.”

The TMJ4 story notes that costly jail phone calls have hit Black families especially hard: Black people in Wisconsin are not only overrepresented in prisons and jails; they also face the highest racial wealth gap in the country, with a Black worker earning “42 cents to every white dollar.”

Our data on Wisconsin and further resources

We’ve shared our full data set about Wisconsin jails in a table below, revealing how much money 30 county jails charge for phone calls, as well as how county jails and their phone providers split the revenue.

We also encourage readers in Wisconsin to explore our other resources on jail phone calls, including:

Phone rates and commissions in Wisconsin county jails:
A sample of 30 counties

Most jails are paid a “commission” by the phone providers they contract with. A commission is an agreed-upon share of the revenue generated when incarcerated people pay for phone calls. This table above shows data on phone rates and commission payments in Wisconsin county jails, obtained through public records requests that we sent to a sample of counties in Wisconsin. We requested records from all counties whose jail phone services are provided by Securus, because Securus’s records are standardized which makes them easier for us to review; as well as some counties served by other providers. Readers who want to explore this issue in more depth should know that jails in Wisconsin earn commissions on “collect” calls (calls that are paid for individually by the non-incarcerated recipients), “debit” calls (calls that are paid for via pre-funded accounts), or both. One county in Wisconsin, Green County, earns different commissions on both debit and collect calls. For more detail on how relationships between jails and telecom providers work, see our 2019 report State of Phone Justice.
County Provider First Minute Rate Subsequent Minute Rate 15 Minute Call Commission Contract
Adams Securus $0.25 $0.25 $3.75 50% Adams County jail phone contract
Barron Securus $0.25 $0.25 $3.75 82% Barron County jail phone contract
Brown Securus $0.29 $0.29 $4.35 54% Brown County jail phone contract
Chippewa Securus $0.91 $0.91 $13.65 76% Chippewa County jail phone contract
Columbia Securus $0.50 $0.50 $7.50 52% Columbia County jail phone contract
Dunn ICSolutions $0.16 $0.16 $2.40 60% Dunn County jail phone contract
Eau Claire Securus $0.75 $0.75 $11.25 49% Eau Claire County jail phone contract
Green Securus $5.11 $0.69 $14.77 30% of debit, 41% of collect Green County jail phone contract
Jackson Securus $0.21 $0.21 $3.15 n/a n/a
Jefferson Securus $0.12 $0.12 $1.80 55% Jefferson County jail phone contract
Juneau Securus $0.15 $0.15 $2.25 0% Juneau County jail phone contract
Kenosha GTL $0.50 $0.50 $7.50 $26,000 per month Kenosha County jail phone contract
La Crosse Securus $4.64 $0.69 $14.30 20% La Crosse County jail phone contract
Lincoln Securus $0.31 $0.31 $4.65 52% Lincoln County jail phone contract
Manitowoc Securus $0.31 $0.31 $4.65 47% Manitowoc County jail phone contract
Marathon Securus $0.50 $0.50 $7.50 78% Marathon County jail phone contract
Menominee GTL $0.55 $0.55 $8.25 n/a n/a
Milwaukee CenturyLink/ICSolutions $0.50 $0.50 $7.50 70% Milwaukee County jail phone contract
Monroe Securus $0.91 $0.91 $13.65 50.00% Monroe County jail phone contract
Polk Securus $5.11 $0.69 $14.77 44% Polk County jail phone contract
Portage Securus $0.91 $0.91 $13.65 n/a Portage County jail phone contract
Price Securus $0.21 $0.21 $3.15 10% Price County jail phone contract
Racine Securus $1.00 $0.50 $8.00 n/a n/a
Rusk Securus $2.98 $0.48 $9.70 65% Rusk County jail phone contract
Sheboygan Securus $0.12 $0.12 $1.80 54% Sheboygan County jail phone contract
Vernon Securus $0.12 $0.12 $1.80 0% Vernon County jail phone contract
Vilas GTL $0.37 $0.37 $5.55 n/a n/a
Waukesha Securus $5.03 $0.20 $7.83 n/a n/a
Waupaca Securus $0.91 $0.91 $13.65 60% Waupaca County jail phone contract
Wood ICSolutions $0.21 $0.21 $3.15 47% Wood County jail phone contract

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