Phones archives

by Aleks Kajstura, March 12, 2018

In bipartisan effort, Senators Duckworth (D-IL), Portman (R-OH), Booker (D-NJ) and Schatz (D-HI) recently introduced a bill (S.2520) to smooth the road for prison phone and video call regulation.

The bill clarifies that the FCC is required to ensure fair cost to customers, rather than only protecting phone company profits. The bill also clarifies that the FCC’s authority to regulate prison and jail phone calls includes all types of calling technology; this is particularly timely as many of the companies are pushing video calling to circumvent phone call regulation (and monetize visitation).

While a lot of this may seem like common sense, recent phone company litigation makes these clarifications necessary.

For more info, check out the Senators’ fact sheet.


by Lucius Couloute, March 5, 2018

2017 was an important year for the movement to protect in-person visits in correctional facilities. Media outlets, grassroots organizations, and policymakers across the country spoke out and created real change that will positively impact the lives of incarcerated people and their families for years to come. And although there is much work still to be done, it appears that 2018 is already off to a strong start with new legislation introduced in New Jersey and policy changes in California.

  • New Jersey Assembly Bill 1025, introduced by Representatives Gordon Johnson and Elizabeth Maher Smith, would guarantee in-person family visits for incarcerated individuals, cap video costs at 11 cents a minute, and ban fees on professional video visits from lawyers and clergy. The bill will soon be heard in the legislature’s law and public safety committees.
  • Over in California, the Board of State and Community Corrections, an independent agency charged with ensuring correctional facility standards, recently approved revisions to its regulations of California juvenile facilities including that they “may provide access to technology as an alternative, but not as a replacement, to in-person visitation.” According to a press release, the BSCC will makes its final edits and the public will have a final opportunity to comment before the regulations become final.

If approved, the new policies in New Jersey and California would chip away at the inhumane treatment of both adults and youths held in correctional facilities. The Prison Policy Initiative supports these efforts and encourages lawmakers in other states to implement similar policies in order to protect incarcerated people from the exploitative nature of the video calling industry.


by Lucius Couloute, January 30, 2018

In April 2014 the sheriff’s office in Knox County, Tennessee banned in-person visits at its jail facilities and entered into a contract with Securus Technologies, forcing incarcerated people to interact with their loved ones through video screens alone. The sheriff’s office cited concerns about contraband, safety, and efficiency to justify the switch from in-person visits to video chats, but failed to illustrate how a new video calling system would provide the magic bullet.

In a new report from Face To Face Knox, a grassroots coalition of citizens in Knox County seeking humane treatment for incarcerated individuals, data from an open records request shows that the replacement of family visits with video calls has resulted in more violence, no drop in the rate of reported contraband, and higher levels of disciplinary infractions, putting more demand on staff.

assaults.staff assaults.contraband.disciplinary infractions.

Scroll to the right to see the impact of eliminating in-person visits on assaults, contraband cases, and disciplinary infractions over time. Data compiled by Face To Face Knox through a public records request.

The video-only “visitation” system did exactly the opposite of what the sheriff’s office intended – except for turning a profit. At a cost of $6 a visit, the sheriff’s office has generated nearly $70,000 from the 50% commissions it makes on the backs of people attempting to stay in touch with their incarcerated loved ones.

As the report explains, “The results are clear: The ban on in-person visits makes the jail more dangerous, does nothing to stop the flow of contraband, and strips money from the pockets of families. It’s time to end the ban and give visitors the option to see their friends and loved ones face to face.”


by Lucius Couloute, December 14, 2017

Virtual jail “visits” are quietly sweeping the country. Fortunately, a surge of hard-hitting journalism is pushing back, illuminating the exploitative practice of eliminating family visits in favor of video calls. In two new pieces from The Guardian and Colorado Public Radio, the technological glitches, emotional toll, and human rights violations stemming from an expanding jail video calling industry take center stage.
The end of American prison visits

In Shannon Sims’ deep dive into the video calling industry for The Guardian, she investigates the switch from in-person family visits to expensive video calls in one jail outside of downtown New Orleans:

The guards tell me they think the new system will be an improvement – “it’s better because you can do a video visit from home now” – but since it is so new, they can’t say for sure.

They suggest I check out the new “Video Visitation Center”, located about a 10 minute drive down the freeway. For those without access to a smartphone or a computer, the new visitation center is their only option.

There, an old elementary school building has been converted into the center. Inside, three guards are gathered and laughing around a cellphone behind a glass wall, but outside the parking lot is empty. No one is visiting.

As we’ve detailed before, it’s unlikely that people will actually enjoy driving to a jail or offsite terminal just to visit with a computer screen – the entire experience is dehumanizing. But video calling from home – at $12.99 per call – wasn’t much better for Tiffany Burns, who Sims visited as she was attempting to receive a home video call from her boyfriend Chrishon Brown:

“OK, so he is supposed to call in eight minutes I guess,” she says, staring at her phone, which blinks 6.52pm.

This is her third attempt to video chat with Brown. The first time, she did not know she needed to schedule the call far ahead of time, and the second time, all the slots were filled for the days she was off work. Now, with her slot scheduled and her earphones in, she’s wondering if it will all work out.

Finally, she sees a call coming through.

Her face lights up and then slowly fades as she realizes Brown can’t hear her. She fiddles with her headphones, waves, tries gesturing to him, but ultimately, he never can hear her voice. The two end up simply giggling at the screen image of each other for the remainder of the time.

Later, I speak with Brown by phone and he explains that he believes he was only the third inmate to try to use the video program at the Jefferson Parish jail, and that the other two also said it didn’t work properly.

“We had to pay money for something that didn’t work,” he complains. “I couldn’t even hear what she was saying, and I couldn’t really see her.”

A thousand miles away in Denver, Colorado, Michael Sakas of Colorado Public Radio explores the emotional toll that eliminating in-person visits has taken on one mother’s incarcerated son, who has attempted suicide multiple times while behind bars:

“He is having an emotional breakdown right now because he can’t wait to give me a hug . . . So he wants to plead guilty because he wants to go to prison so that he can give me a hug again.”

Since 2005, the only way to speak to an incarcerated person in Denver’s jails has been through video chats. But a new movement, sparked by grassroots leaders and a report from Denver’s Office of the Independent Monitor, is putting pressure on the local sheriff’s office, which is now considering a reinstatement of in-person visits. The downtown detention center was built without visitation space, which would make reinstating visits expensive, according to jail division chief Elias Diggins. But the city is moving forward with a $1.4 million dollar contract to update the video calling system.

“Can you imagine being in a cell all by yourself, and only being out for a couple of hours everyday? I mean, I couldn’t handle it. Could you?”

The Guardian‘s article raises another important point that we haven’t raised in our own work or seen raised elsewhere: does international human rights law require jails to allow in-person visitation?

“Internationally, multiple legal instruments indicate that it [does]. UN rules call for the allowance of visitors, while the European Prison Rules emphasize that while all forms of visitation may be monitored, maximum contact is the underlying goal: ‘Prisoners shall be allowed to communicate as often as possible by letter, telephone or other forms of communication with their families, other persons and representatives of outside organisations and to receive visits from these persons.'”

This reminder about international human rights law adds an international layer to the clear national consensus — including agreement from editorial boards, public citizens, professional organizations, and policymakers — that erecting unnecessary barriers between incarcerated people and the outside world is bad policy. It’s time for American sheriffs to join the rest of the country, and the world.


by Bernadette Rabuy, November 20, 2017

Policy work sometimes requires tough choices. For example, our campaign to protect in-person family visits in jails has won some major victories at the price of accepting legislation that does not apply to counties that had already replaced in-person visits with inadequate video calls.

In both Texas and California, state bills were successful in protecting in-person visits in a majority of counties but exempted some counties from restoring in-person visits. (This practice of creating an exemption in a law is sometimes called a “grandfather clause” or “grandfathering.”) Our coalitions struggled with these compromises, and I want to share some of the considerations we confronted in the hopes that it might guide similar decisions:

  1. What is the main goal of the legislation?

    At the Prison Policy Initiative, we often work in coalitions. One challenge of working in coalitions is that it can be hard to make fast-paced decisions. Planning ahead, creating a structure, and agreeing in advance on the purpose of the legislation can make all the difference. In California, we used a few approaches. We had regular conversations among the coalition members about the purpose of the legislation. This was almost like creating a ranking of the most important purposes of the legislation to the least important purposes. We also elected a smaller group of the coalition that was entrusted to make fast-paced decisions if getting in touch with all of the coalition members didn’t work out. Another approach, which is similar to what we did in Texas, is to alert coalition members to be on stand-by for a last-minute conference call as soon as there is reason to believe that a fast-paced decision is likely.

  2. Is the compromise the right size?

    Passing legislation often requires compromise, so the first question, after whether compromise is necessary, is whether it’s the right one. For example, we’ve found it helpful to focus on the extent of that compromise. We’ve thought about whether the compromise is limited to what’s necessary or, on the other hand, takes the teeth out of a bill. For example, for legislation on video calls, we ask ourselves, if a grandfather clause is necessary, how many counties exactly does it make sense to include? Unfortunately, the California bill has an expansive grandfather clause. It not only exempts jails that were built without physical space designated for in-person visitation, but it also exempts jails that are in early stages of construction.

  3. Can we effectively address, at the local level, what the state legislative compromise left out?

    When we considered the expansive California exemption, we thought about the feasibility of follow-up campaigns in the counties that would be exempted. In other words, we asked, “Can we fix it later?”

    When working with a coalition, it can be helpful to poll members’ capacity to do follow-up work. For example, is the campaign a part of that coalition member’s one-year plan or five-year plan? If most of the coalition is located in a couple of cities, would it be practical to launch a campaign outside of those cities? How difficult would it be to track local policymaking? (For example, are county government meeting agendas posted online regularly and in advance?)

  4. How likely is future reform? Is there opposition and how strong or widespread is it?

    We’ve also assessed the political climate. For example, when we were working to protect in-person visits in Texas, it didn’t seem like the opposition would waver if we decided to reject the offered compromise and waited for the next legislative session. In particular, Bexar County was resistant to the bill we were working on because it was building a visitation center in order to replace in-person visits with video calls. Bexar County wasn’t showing any sign of rethinking its plans, and, as home to San Antonio, it seemed to be an influential county.

    On the other hand, the initial California bill that would have protected in-person visits in California jails had a long list of supporters and just one opponent (the California State Sheriffs Association). While the Legislature approved the bill with bipartisan support, Governor Brown ultimately vetoed the bill. With just one opponent (and one who conceded that “in-person visitation can bring positive outcomes”), we knew we had momentum to keep the campaign going. We also thought we might have more success at a later moment that wasn’t so close to an election heavy with criminal justice reforms. Ultimately, we were right; we were successful with a second bill.

  5. Are there alternative strategies for reform?

    We’ve weighed the potential harm of an exemption with the likelihood that we could adopt alternative strategies for reform. For example, in Texas, some of the counties that had already banned in-person visits were still subject to the law’s requirement to provide in-person visits because they had not in fact incurred “significant expense” to adopt video calls. We knew from our research that it was common for predatory video call companies to install video call systems in jails at no cost to the county. Upon closer investigation, Woods and Hays hadn’t paid for their video systems so they were required to provide in-person jail visits. In Travis County, advocates like Grassroots Leadership, which is based in the County, organized and successfully persuaded the Travis County Sheriff to bring back in-person visits even though he received an exemption.

    In California, the coalition that sponsored the initial bill responded to the Governor’s veto by partnering with supportive legislators and family members of incarcerated people. The Senate and Assembly Budget Subcommittee 5 on Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary along with the Senate Public Safety Committee hosted an informational hearing on video calls at the State Capitol where members of our coalition testified to raise further awareness of the harm of banning in-person visits. We also organized family members of incarcerated people to share the positive impact that in-person visitation has had on them through public comment or written testimony. As one man who has visited his father in various California jails put it, “Human beings need in person visits. Our minds need it and our hearts need it.” The support of legislators and the public helped us keep our campaign in the spotlight until we were able to protect in-person visits through a second bill.

Legislative compromises are never easy questions. Without a doubt, legislative compromises require assessing factors that vary from one place to another. But our experience working to protect in-person visits in certain states has reminded us that anticipating opposition and brainstorming potential responses in advance can make the decision easier.


by Aleks Kajstura, October 12, 2017

While we talk a lot about counties getting kick-backs from phone companies in return for granting monopoly contracts, we now have new research about a far more direct prison and jail phone company effort to sway sheriffs: campaign contributions.

As we highlighted two years ago, Securus was donating $10,000 a year to the Sacramento County sheriff, even though it did not have a contract with the county. We recently dug around a little deeper and discovered that Sacramento’s experience is not unique.

We found that GTL and Securus alone have donated over $70,000 to Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern’s campaigns in just 4 years (2010-2013):

Year GTL’s
Contributions
Securus’
Contributions
2010 $2,000 $10,000
2011 $400 $10,000
2012 $12,000 $10,000
2013 $15,000 $10,075

As we can see, prison and jail phone companies have been fueling Ahern’s campaign for years. And in 2012, their contributions accounted for nearly 25% of Ahern’s campaign expenditures.

Notably Sheriff Ahern runs the 14th largest jail system in the country; just one of his facilities is larger than the entire state prison system of 8 states. He used his substantial influence to organize and lead jail administrators to fight against jail phone regulation while also raking in at least $1.5 million in kickbacks from the phone companies.

The phone companies are making contributions in other counties too:

Jail phone company Contribution County Year
CenturyLink $1,000 Clark County, NV 2014
Securus $1,675 Contra Costa County, CA 2013
Securus $500 Duval County, FL 2014
Telmate $500 San Francisco County, CA 2015

These contributions may seem small compared to those in Alameda and Sacramento, but the cost of running for sheriff varies, so these contributions might be enough to sway their respective elections. (And of course, phone companies buy other county officials as well.)

Finally, these findings represent just a handful of the country’s 3,163 jails. Much more work needs to be done to uncover the full impact of jail phone companies on sheriff races, and what that means for families trying to keep in touch with incarcerated loved ones.

 

 

Special thanks to Sasha Feldstein and Sari Kisilevsky, our Young Professionals Network volunteers, for their hours spent sifting through the data, as well as Alex Clark and Elliot Oberholtzer for their additional research and compilation.


by Bernadette Rabuy, September 26, 2017

The public, the media, and policymakers agree: replacing in-person jail visits with video calls is foolish and needlessly cruel. In an article last week, VC Daily, which describes itself as a niche community of video conferencing enthusiasts, agreed: “Video conferencing technology has come a long way in the past decade, but even in its most experimental current forms it cannot replicate time spent with family and friends in the flesh…”

VC Daily was quick to acknowledge that it may seem like an unlikely supporter of in-person visits, and it explained why video calls are a poor replacement of in-person visits:

As much as we consider ourselves here at VC Daily to be cheerleaders for the technology and use of video conferencing, the bottom line is that video conferencing just isn’t the same as in-person communication. At least, not right now. It is a great substitute when distance and circumstance make sharing the same space impossible, impractical, or just plain expensive.

VC Daily understands that in-person jail visits are far from impossible, impractical, or expensive:

  • In-person jail visits are not impossible. Although this is quickly changing, most jails still provide in-person visits.
  • In-person jail visits are not impractical. In-person visits, not video calls, are the norm in state and federal prisons. Jails can and should provide in-person visits too, especially since families are generally able to visit incarcerated loved ones more easily when they are close by in a local jail than many miles away in a prison.
  • In-person jail visits are not expensive. Traditionally, jails did not charge families to visit their incarcerated loved ones. Charging families to see their incarcerated loved ones is one of the negative consequences of the growth of the video call industry and a practice discouraged by the American Correctional Association. Jails do expend resources to provide in-person visitation, but in-person visitation can lead to a reduction in recidivism so it’s a worthy investment.

VC Daily went on to admit that, even as a community of video conferencing enthusiasts, it believes that denying incarcerated people human contact infringes on basic human needs:

However, as an L.A. Times editorial noted just a few months ago, once you start employing video conferencing to replace human physical interaction, you run the risk of dangerously undermining a person’s basic human needs… We usually end these posts dreaming of a hypothetical future in which video conferencing is the good guy, the tech that can make great things possible. But this certainly takes the fun out of our hypothetical.

VC Daily’s critique gets at the heart of what is so perverse about the way that jails use video calls: it’s a rare example of a technology being used to separate, rather than connect, people. This harmful practice is in part why VC Daily concludes, “[v]ideo conferencing is an addition to our lives, not the venue for them.”


by Lucius Couloute, September 7, 2017

comment letter

Due, in part, to our work on the video calling industry, most policymakers now recognize that in-person jail visits should not be replaced with glitchy, expensive, and impersonal video calls.

In states like Texas, California, and Illinois legislators have made it a point to ensure that incarcerated people get to see their loved ones face-to-face by prohibiting correctional facilities from eliminating in-person visits.

In Maine, however, the Department of Corrections (who holds the authority to set jail standards) is considering a move that would put them at odds with the national consensus: eliminating the requirement that Maine jails provide in-person contact visits, allowing them to instead provide video-only “visits”.

The DOC solicited comments on the proposed changes, so we submitted a letter detailing why the policy change would hurt families. You can read the full text of the letter, above. It concludes:

The DOC, on its own website, states that its mission is to “reduce the likelihood that juvenile and adult offenders will re-offend by providing practices, programs, and services which are evidence based.” Replacing in-person visits with video calling flies in the face of established evidence and punishes the families of incarcerated people who only wish to support their incarcerated loved ones. On behalf of incarcerated people looking to maintain their support systems, and their families, we urge the DOC to maintain in-person visits.

At a recent hearing, over 20 people testified against the proposed changes. We now await the final decision.


by Bernadette Rabuy, September 6, 2017

As we’ve explained, jails affect state prison outcomes. This might explain why California state legislators have been so concerned about the harmful trend of local jails replacing in-person visits with video calls. In the 2015-2016 legislation cycle, the California legislature approved SB 1157, which would have required jails to provide in-person visits, but Governor Brown vetoed the legislation. In his veto message, the governor asked the state regulatory body that sets jail visitation regulations, the Board of State and Community Corrections, to investigate the issue.

I didn’t realize this at the time, but SB 1157 was just the beginning of the struggle to protect in-person visits in California jails. After the veto, I learned that California legislators were planning an informational hearing at the state Capitol on video calls, and I was invited to testify on the Prison Policy Initiative’s research.

The timing worked out well. Days before the informational hearing, the Board of State and Community Corrections released proposed revisions to the jail visitation regulations. The regulations, which were later approved, prohibit jails from replacing in-person visits with video calls but exempt jails that had already eliminated in-person visits.

At the hearing, the legislators were colorful and adamant in their critiques of video calls. While the support from members of the public, legislators, and the press has been unanimous since we started our national campaign to protect in-person visits, it was still a rare and powerful sight to see legislators standing so strongly on the side of incarcerated people and their families. And the legislators pinpointed the dangers of banning in-person visits in a way that’s helpful for anyone in the country hoping to protect family visits:

  • Eliminating in-person visits is contrary to reducing recidivism and supporting rehabilitation.

    In 2011, California adopted Realignment in order to comply with a court order to reduce the state’s prison population. Realignment consists of shifting non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual state prisoners from state prisons to county jails. As Senator Nancy Skinner pointed out, there was a secondary rationale for Realignment. California legislators and Governor Jerry Brown reasoned that imprisoning people in jails, which are generally closer to home, could lead to greater visitation. Because visits have been shown to reduce recidivism, in theory, imprisoning people in jails rather than prisons could reduce recidivism.

    But as we’ve previously explained, there is no evidence that video calls have the same effect on recidivism as in-person visits. In fact, replacing in-person visits with video calls works against the goal of reducing recidivism because it can reduce visitation. In Travis County, Texas jails, banning in-person visits led the total number of visits to drop by 28% from September 2009 to September 2013. Thus, as state legislators aimed to increase visitation, county sheriffs were impeding visitation by leaving families with nothing more than low-quality video calls.

  • As much as possible, states should not exempt counties from having to provide in-person visits.

    As I previously noted, the Board of State and Community Corrections’ regulations prohibit jails from replacing in-person visits with video calls but exempt jails that had already decided to eliminate in-person visits. While Texas similarly exempted some counties from having to provide in-person visits, the key California legislators were more public about their belief that the exemption would let too many counties off the hook. In California, counties received exemptions for jails that were built without physical space for in-person visits and jails that were in the midst of construction or renovation that would culminate in only providing video calls. But some counties received exemptions when they were fully capable of providing in-person visits in a jail but had simply decided not to. In response to the exemption, Senator Skinner said,

    I’ve got six that were built without visitation, so you know, maybe those are the six…that one could, perhaps, make a case for having difficulty…but, the first 10, it seems really hard to imagine why, when they already have that in-person space, the [regulations] would allow them to ban it.

    Similarly, Assemblymember Shirley Weber pointed out,

    I find it…difficult to digest that we would have facilities that have space, but would still refuse to have in-person visitations. What is the theory behind this?…There has to be some rationale…I assume the people who work in those facilities are… the leaders in the area [of] public safety and criminal justice…So what is the rationale for that?

    Skinner and Weber were in disbelief that the exemption was crafted so broadly. The Board of State and Community Corrections defended the expansive exemption, saying that some counties built jails in recent years without physical space for in-person visits. When SB 1157 was introduced, these counties claimed that it would cost too much money to bring back in-person visits now that they had jails built without visitation rooms. But as the legislators pointed out, the Board of State and Community Corrections was exempting more than just those counties and it failed to provide any research or policy-based rationale for exempting counties that had the physical space to provide in-person visits.

    Assemblymember Jones Sawyer rejected the idea that counties constructing or renovating jails in order to eliminate in-person visits should be exempted. Jones Sawyer explained that it wasn’t too late for the Board of State and Community Corrections to require these counties to change their plans,

    I worked several years in the city of Los Angeles. I left as the director of real estate. I’ve actually built a jail in the city of L.A…. All of them can have [in-person] visitation in them…and you can require that…It can be done, and it can be done quickly, even on the end of construction.

    The legislators agreed that the regulations were a half-hearted attempt to protect in-person visits.

  • Because of the two-way relationship between state and local criminal justice systems, states should look for ways to influence harmful local criminal justice policies.

    The state legislators were also upset that state money was being used in the construction and renovation of local jails that eliminated in-person visits. As Senator Skinner said, “The state is paying most of the bill for these county facilities…so in theory, the state should be able to make these decisions.” Senator Mitchell, the author of SB 1157, similarly expressed,

    I’m very glad that the budget subcommittee chairs for public safety are here, and I hope that you will take [this] into account as we make future decisions about funding allocations for the constructions of jails…that we’re clear about what state policies, what state expectations they will adhere to because perhaps we should turn off the spigot.

    The legislators expressed some support for local control of criminal justice policies, but they did not want to financially support a harmful trend that was working against the state’s goal of reducing recidivism. The legislators also felt that the Board of State and Community Corrections was fully aware of the legislators’ support for in-person visits since they approved SB 1157 with bipartisan, bicameral support.

The hearing was the most tense and lively visit to the California Capitol I’ve experienced. It was powerful to witness legislators so animated over an issue that primarily affects incarcerated people and their families, a population that is too often ignored. The legislators’ sharp analysis of the harm of banning in-person visits was also a reminder that this campaign should not exist on the fringes of the larger movement to end mass incarceration. Assemblymember Weber might have captured the urgent need to protect in-person jail visits best, “I feel like we’ve made some steps forward in this whole area of criminal justice, every time we seem to go forward, there seems to be some problem to drag us back. And some of these problems appear to be small, but they really have huge consequences.”

Update: In June, Governor Brown signed the 2017-2018 California budget, including AB 103, which statutorily requires jails to provide in-person visits rather than video calls. Like the approved regulations, the budget trailer bill exempts counties that had already decided to eliminate in-person visits. The bill is a step forward because it adds a statutory layer of protection for in-person visits and protects in-person visits in more California counties. The Board of State and Community Corrections has put the approved regulations on hold to ensure that the regulations conform with AB 103.


by Peter Wagner, August 28, 2017

The largest phone provider in prisons and jails, which incarcerated people use to call home, has just gotten bigger. GTL (formerly Global Tel*Link) has purchased its competitor Telmate.

In the broken market that is the prison and jail telephone business, families pay high costs because the companies compete not on the basis of low prices or high quality, but on which company will share the most revenue with the facility that awarded the company the monopoly contract. That’s how, in an era of unlimited long distance and free Skype calls, costs to receive a call from an incarcerated loved one have surpassed $1/minute.

By purchasing Telmate, GTL has eliminated a small but very quickly growing competitor. Telmate had contracts with two state prison systems (Montana and Oregon) and contracts with almost a hundred local jails. The company was one of the more innovative companies in the space, although their biggest contribution to the market might have been various kinds of creative accounting tricks that transferred money from customers’ pockets to Telmate without federal and state tax collectors or correctional facilities catching on.

Now that the number of major national companies competing for contracts has declined to just two (GTL and Securus), it will be that much harder for facilities that want to lower prices to do so. How bad is GTL and Securus’ domination of the industry? Our research associate Alex Clark determined each company’s market share as of July 2017 and prepared this chart:

Table 1 Market dominance of prison telephone providers prior to GTL purchase of Telmate. Percentage of market is calculated by the most recently available reported population of each county facility or state prison system. This table shows a range of values because some providers have outdated information on their websites about who has a given contract and we were not always able to confirm which provider to credit with that contract. The actual values should therefore lie within the range given. Each jail system is counted as one contract even if the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Census of Jails separately counted individual facilities in that jail system. Similarly, each state prison system was counted as one contract regardless of the number of facilities in the state prison system.
Phone vendor Number of contracts Percent of market
Private companies
GTL 377-586 46.0% – 52.9%
Securus 635-794 15.0% – 19.4%
CenturyLink 6-20 10.6% – 11.5%
ICSolutions 129-288 3.7% – 6.3%
Telmate 101-157 1.9% – 3.1%
Paytel 151 1.3%
NCIC 169-170 0.9% – 1.0%
CenturyLink & ICSolutions working together in Nevada 1 0.7%
Legacy Inmate 46-61 0.4% – 0.6%
Regent 15-44 0.2% – 1.0%
AmTel 26-29 0.2% – 0.3%
Reliance 145-154 0.2%
Government-run systems
Bureau of Prisons (has their own system) 1 7.90%
Iowa Department of Corrections (has their own system, buys bandwidth wholesale from from ICSolutions) 1 0.40%
Maine Department of Corrections (has their own system, with assistance from Legacy Inmate) 1 0.10%
None of the above 709 1.80%

 

Fewer companies will mean less choice for facilities

Because the primary differentiation between vendors is cost, having fewer companies compete for contracts will mean less choice for the facility that awards the contracts and less of an incentive for the companies to offer good deals.

Continue reading →




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Events

  • May 15, 2018:
    Our Policy Analyst Lucius Couloute will be at the LEDA Summit on Race and Inclusion in Holland, Michigan, presenting his research on the challenges and disadvantages people face when they are released from prison. Tickets are available on LEDA’s website.

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