New data: Wisconsin jails and telecom giants profiting from high phone rates that keep families apart
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:
- Our big picture report State of Phone Justice, which includes recommendations for states and counties to get incarcerated people and their families a better deal.
- Our phone justice campaign page, which includes in-depth explainers about the prison and jail phone industry, a handy map of the biggest injustices in every state, and information on our state advocacy campaigns.
Phone rates and commissions in Wisconsin county jails:
A sample of 30 counties
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|