Phones archives

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

A new order from the Federal Communications Commission lowers existing caps on rates and fees in the prison and jail telephone industry.

by Andrea Fenster, June 10, 2021

On May 24, the Federal Communications Commission released a historic order lowering existing caps on rates and fees in the prison and jail telephone industry. The same document also signals the FCC’s intent to further lower rates in the future, and create additional rules governing this industry. The public is invited to comment on a wide range of topics.

The FCC’s newest order applies only to out-of-state calls, where the caller and called person are physically in different states, but not to in-state calls, where the caller and called person are physically in the same state. Importantly, the FCC says that companies must charge the out-of-state rate unless they know where the parties are physically located. Previously, many companies calculated rates based on area codes, which will no longer be allowed. (This means some third-party services that offer different phone numbers with a different area code to obtain better calling rates will no longer be effective).

These newly lowered caps go into effect October 26, 2021. Here is what families with incarcerated loved ones can expect to be charged:

Rate caps:

  • For prisons: With one exception, out-of-state calls will not cost more than 14¢ per minute. Previously, rates were capped at either 21¢ or 25¢ depending on whether the call was collect or debit. The exception is that the FCC is allowing companies to charge higher rates if a mandatory state statute or regulation requires a commission payment to the facility, however, “in no event…can the total rate cap exceed $0.21 per minute.” (FCC Order at fn309).1
  • For jails with an average daily population of 1,000 or more: With one exception, out-of-state calls will not cost more than $0.16 per minute. Previously, rates were capped at either 21¢ or 25¢ depending on whether the call was collect or debit. The exception is that the FCC is allowing companies to charge higher rates if a mandatory state statute or regulation requires a commission payment to the facility, however, “in no event…can the total rate cap exceed $0.21 per minute.” (FCC Order at fn309).2
  • For all other jails: Out-of-state calls can cost no more than 21¢ per minute. Currently, collect calls can cost up to 25¢ per minute at these jails, but when the new regulations take effect, collect calls and debit calls will both be capped at 21¢.

International rate caps:

  • International calls from both prisons and jails will now be capped at the out-of-state rate that applies (above), plus the amount that the provider pays to an underlying wholesale carrier for the cost of the call. Prior to these rules, international calls were not subject to price caps. The exact caps will be hard to predict because the “underlying wholesale” cost is not widely known. But for context, calls from the United States to Mexico via one wholesaler, Twilio, cost between $0.013 and $0.045 per minute depending on the location within Mexico and whether it is to a cell phone. The prices for other countries vary and other wholesalers may have different prices, but the FCC’s intent is clearly to restrict price gouging by the providers.

Single calls:

  • From both prisons and jails, single call products, like Text2Connect™ and PayNow™, will now be capped at $6.95 per call, plus the applicable per-minute rate. We have previously found that companies were charging $9.99-14.99 for a single telephone call.

Third-party financial transaction fees:

  • In both prisons and jails, third-party financial transaction fees, like fees associated with Western Union and MoneyGram payments, will be capped at $6.95 per transaction. Currently, these fees can be as high as $9.99.

 

Footnotes

  1. We note that calls in some states are already less than 14¢ per minute, and while many states still choose to collect a commission, most states do not appear to do so under a “mandatory” structure that would allow them to increase the cost of a call beyond 14¢ per minute.  ↩

  2. We note that calls in some county jails are already less than 16¢ per minute, and while many county jails still choose to collect a commission, most county jails do not appear to do so under a “mandatory” state structure that would allow them to increase the cost of a call beyond 16¢ per minute.  ↩


by Katie Rose Quandt and Andrea Fenster, March 23, 2021

Families with loved ones incarcerated in New York State prisons pay some of the lowest phone fees in the entire country. Meanwhile, those with loved ones in the state’s county jails have some of the highest phone costs. How can this be?

It’s all about the incentives. In 2007, New York State passed progressive legislation requiring contracts between state prisons and private phone companies to be negotiated “for the lowest price to the consumer,” and prohibiting the department of corrections from accepting commissions on phone calls. (Nationwide, the commission-based structure of correctional phone calls is a major factor driving up costs for the consumer.) New York’s legislation, however, does not apply to county and city jails, meaning counties are free to choose the phone company that charges the most and kicks the most revenue back to the jail. As a result of this loophole, the average 15-minute call from a New York jail costs seven times more than an identical call from a state prison.

These exorbitant phone rates cost some the poorest residents of New York State — and a group disproportionately made up of women of color — more than $13 million a year just to talk to their jailed loved ones.1 The role played by counties in driving up these costs is clearly demonstrated in our new dataset of commission percentages paid by phone companies to New York county jails. We found that the majority of the cost of an average jail phone call — 64 cents on the dollar — is kicked back from the service provider to the county or jail. In some counties, as much as 86% of jail phone call revenue ends up in the pockets of the county government.2

Cost of a 15-minute phone call in New York county jails — and how much more affordable they could be without commissions

Throughout New York State, counties collect significant commissions from their jail phone providers, driving up costs for families. Here, we collected the current cost of a 15-minute, in-state phone call from each county’s jail, using the rate lookup tools on the phone providers’ websites on March 9, 2021. Unlike in other states, the vast majority of New York counties have chosen to contract with GTL.3 (The five counties of New York City are not included here because New York City made all jail calls free in 2019.)
In this table, we also calculated the hypothetical cost of a 15-minute call if commissions were waived, based on a scenario where a county waives its commissions and asks the phone provider to lower the call rate proportionately (for example, if Albany County waived its 86% commission, and the cost of the call dropped by 86%, from $7.50 to $1.05). In reality, a county that took such a step would likely also strike a harder bargain with the private phone company, reducing rates even further. In every county, we were able to find current phone rates on the phone providers’ websites. However, for some counties, we could not calculate the current commission rate or hypothetical cost of a phone call if commissions were waived, because the county did provide a contract in response to public record requests.
County Phone services provider Current cost of a 15‑minute phone call Hypothetical cost of a 15‑minute call if commissions were waived Kickback percentage in contract
Albany Securus $7.50 $1.05 86%
Allegany GTL $2.25 Cannot calculate Did not provide contract
Broome GTL $3.00 $1.68 44%
Cattaraugus GTL $9.95 $4.48 55%
Cayuga GTL $3.00 $1.35 55%
Chautauqua GTL $2.25 $1.17 48%
Chemung GTL $8.50 $3.83 55%
Chenango GTL $3.00 Cannot calculate Did not provide contract
Clinton GTL $3.75 $2.10 44%
Columbia GTL $2.25 Cannot calculate Contract does not specify commission amount
Cortland GTL $2.25 $1.01 55%
Delaware GTL $3.00 $0.60 80%
Dutchess GTL $9.95 $4.48 55%
Erie ICSolutions $3.15 $1.15 63.50%
Essex GTL $3.00 $0.60 80%
Franklin GTL $2.25 $0.45 80%
Fulton GTL $3.00 $0.60 80%
Genesee Securus $7.50 $1.50 80%
Greene GTL $9.95 $5.57 44%
Hamilton Frontier Communications $0.00 $0.00 0%
Herkimer GTL $2.25 $0.45 80%
Jefferson GTL $2.25 $0.45 80%
Lewis GTL $3.00 $1.35 55%
Livingston GTL $2.25 $0.45 80%
Madison GTL $9.95 $1.99 80%
Monroe Securus $1.50 $0.32 78.50%
Montgomery GTL $3.00 $1.68 44%
Nassau GTL $9.95 $4.58 54%
Niagara GTL $2.25 $0.45 80%
Oneida GTL $9.95 $5.47 45%
Onondaga ICSolutions $2.25 $0.79 65%
Ontario Securus $3.15 $1.10 65%
Orange GTL $9.95 $4.98 50%
Orleans ICSolutions $3.15 Cannot calculate Contract does not specify commission amount
Oswego GTL $3.75 $0.75 80%
Otsego GTL $2.25 $1.26 44%
Putnam GTL $3.00 $0.60 80%
Rensselaer GTL $2.25 $1.01 55%
Rockland GTL $9.95 Cannot calculate Did not provide contract
Saratoga GTL $3.00 $0.60 80%
Schenectady GTL $9.95 $4.48 55%
Schoharie GTL $3.00 $1.35 55% of billed or prepaid
Schuyler GTL $3.00 $1.35 55%
Seneca GTL $9.95 $1.99 80%
St. Lawrence GTL $3.00 $0.60 80%
Steuben GTL $9.95 $5.57 44%
Suffolk Securus $7.50 $1.05 86%
Sullivan Securus $7.50 $3.30 56%
Tioga GTL $9.95 $1.99 80%
Tompkins GTL $2.25 $0.45 80%
Ulster Securus $2.10 Cannot calculate Did not provide contract
Warren GTL $9.95 Cannot calculate Contract does not specify commission amount
Washington GTL $3.00 $0.60 80%
Wayne GTL $2.25 $1.26 44%
Westchester GTL $2.25 $0.86 62%
Wyoming GTL $2.40 $0.48 80%
Yates GTL $3.00 $0.60 80%

These high commissions translate to high costs for families. We found that in 2019, a 15-minute phone call from the average jail in New York was more expensive than the average jail phone call in 43 states. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If individual New York counties pledged to waive the income they earn off the backs of their poorest residents, the cost of a 15-minute phone call would instantly drop significantly. And if the state stepped in with legislation requiring jail phone contracts to be negotiated on the basis of the lowest cost to the consumer (like it already requires of prisons), the rates would go down even further.

In fact, there are several solutions that would reduce phone costs for families of jailed New Yorkers:

  1. Individual counties should immediately tell their provider they want to waive their commission and see the cost of phone calls proportionally reduced for the consumer. (This would ultimately benefit the counties themselves. Many people in jails will soon return to their communities, and studies show that maintaining close contact with family members is linked to better post-release outcomes and lower rates of recidivism.)
  2. Counties should, in their next contracts, refuse to take a commission, and should negotiate not on the basis of maximizing revenue for the county, but to lower the costs for families. Many contracts in New York counties are expiring in the next few years — some of which will automatically renew unless the county actively seeks a new provider and renegotiates. (See our Expiration Dates appendix for information on when your county’s contract is expiring.)
  3. When seeking a new contract, counties should put out separate Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for each service (such as phone calls, electronic messaging, and video visitation), instead of bundling these services together into a single RFP and contract. In fact, New York State should prohibit jails from signing bundled contracts for multiple services because it obscures the provider’s profits and the true cost of the contract. (For more on the harms of bundling see Footnote 2).
  4. Counties should consider going one step further and paying the cost of phone calls themselves, therefore making calls free for families. New York City became the first US jurisdiction to pick up the tab on jail calls in 2019.4 (This may be less expensive than it sounds. Cities or counties covering the total cost of phone calls can negotiate even lower rates, since the phone companies no longer need to do individualized billing.)
  5. New York State should extend its historic legislation that already bans commissions on phone calls in New York State prisons, and requires prison phone contracts to be negotiated for the lowest price to the consumer. Simply closing this loophole and applying the law to jails would save families at least $13 million on their phone bills.

 

Methodology & Appendices:

This analysis was made possible thanks to detailed public record requests made by George Dahlbender. This collection was supplemented by Andrea Fenster; Worth Rises also generously shared three additional contracts. Finally, although Schenectady and Sullivan counties did not respond to public record requests, we were able to find recent copies of their contracts on Muckrock.com, a nonprofit that helps people and organizations file and share record requests.

In the following four appendix tables, we have highlighted key information from the contracts and other documents that counties provided. We are also providing links to the contracts themselves so that journalists and other advocates can hold the counties accountable:

  1. Commissions pocketed by counties for phone, tablet, and video services
  2. Which counties have bundled contracts?
  3. Where are county kickbacks directed?
  4. When does each county’s contract expire?

Appendix 1: Commissions pocketed by counties for phone, tablet, and video services

This appendix table includes the commissions each county receives for phone calls and other services. Here, we have also provided access to the actual county contracts (and commission reports, where available) to other researchers and advocates. As you can see, the commission rate in a given county is often much higher for phones than for tablets and video services; as we’ve discussed in this article, providers often win contracts by paying huge phone commissions to the counties, while ensuring their own profits via low commissions on bundled services.
Phone Tablet Video Notes
County Provider Phone Commission Percent Additional Payments Guaranteed Minimum Payments Cite in
Document
Provider Commission Cite in
Document
Is commission contingent on 80% of the population having “reasonable access” to tablets? Provider Commission Cite in
Document
Albany Securus 86% One-time $115,000 signing bonus Pre-paid commissions of $1,200,000 in the first year, and $600,000 in each of the second and third year Agreement between the County of Albany and Securus Technologies, Inc. For Inmate Phone and Communication System at the Albany County Correctional Facility para. 3.1 – 3.2 Securus 10% for entertainment, 20% for E-Messaging Agreement between the County of Albany and Securus Technologies, Inc. For Inmate Phone and Communication System at the Albany County Correctional Facility para. 3.4 – 3.5 No Securus 20% Agreement between the County of Albany and Securus Technologies, Inc. For Inmate Phone and Communication System at the Albany County Correctional Facility para. 3.3
Allegany GTL Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
Broome GTL 44% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment GTL Inmate Telephone Service Agreement p. 2, para. 4 GTL 20% of per-minute rate Amendment Exhibit A p. 4, para. 8 Yes GTL 20% Amendment Exhibit A p. 4, para. 8
Cattaraugus GTL 55% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment GTL Inmate Telephone Service Agreement p. 1-2 para. 4 GTL 20% of per-minute rate Amendment Exhibit A p. 4, para. 8 Yes GTL 20% Amendment Exhibit A p. 4, para. 8
Cayuga GTL 55% $1.60 for each Collect2Card call and $0.30 for each Connect2Phone call Contract does not guarantee minimum payment GTL Inmate Telephone Service Agreement p. 1-2 para. 4 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
Chautauqua GTL 48% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment GTL Inmate Telephone Service Agreement p. 2 para. 4 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) GTL 48% GTL Inmate Telephone Service Agreement p. 2 para. 4
Chemung GTL 55% “…four equal installments of $11,250 at the beginning of each contract year…” Contract does not guarantee minimum payment GTL Inmate Telephone Service Amendment p. 1 para. 2 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
Chenango GTL Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
Clinton GTL 44% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment GTL Inmate Telephone Service Agreement p. 2 para. 4 GTL 25% of per-minute rate Amendment Exhibit A Service Schedule p. 4, para. 8 Yes GTL 25% Amendment Exhibit A Service Schedule p. 4, para. 8
Columbia GTL Contract mentions these services, but does not specify any commission amount Contract mentions phone services, but does not specify any commission amount Contract mentions these services, but does not specify any commission amount GTL Master Services Agreement p. 1 para. 1 Columbia Dahlbender Archive p. 4 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract The service schedule that is referenced in the contract was not included in the county’s response to a FOIL request.
Cortland GTL 55% “… Premise Provider is compensated on a per call basis, depending on the program implemented, either at a flat amount per call, or on a percentage of the call charge.” Contract does not guarantee minimum payment GTL Inmate Telephone Service Agreement p. 1-2 para. 4 GTL 15% of per-minute rate Amendment Exhibit A p. 4, para. 8 Yes Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
Delaware GTL 80% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment p. 1 GTL 0% Amendment Exhbibit A p. 1-2 para. 6 Not applicable (indicates there is no commission on service) GTL Amendment Exhbibit A p. 1-2 para. 6
Dutchess GTL 55% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment GTL Services Agreement p. 2 para. 4 GTL “Company will pay Premise Provider a commission every month based on average monthly revenue per tablet for that month from purchased content (“Content Revenue”)…Furthermore, Company will not owe or pay any commission on the first Eighty Nine Thousand Seven Hundred Dollars ($89,700), in Content Revenue collected.” Commissions range from 0% to 70%. Agreement Exhibit B p. 12-13 para. V.a. No Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
Erie ICSolutions 63.50% $70,000 annual Technology Fund, funded on a monthly basis Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment No. 2 to the Agreement for Inmate Telephone System p. 2 para. 5 None Not available at facility FOIA Response p. 1 Not applicable (service not available at facility) ICSolutions 50% on all service fees Amendment No. 2 p. 2 para. 5
Essex GTL 80% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment GTL Master Services Agreement p. 8 GTL 20% of per-minute rate GTL Master Services Agreement p. 11 Yes GTL 20% GTL Master Services Agreement p. 11
Franklin GTL 80% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment p. 1 para. 1 GTL 20% of per-minute rate Exhibit A p. 3 para. 8 Yes GTL 20% Exhibit A p. 3 para. 8
Fulton GTL 80% $1.60 for each Collect2Card call and $0.30 for each Connect2Phone call Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment p. 1 para. 2 Trinity Services Group Contract mentions these services, but does not specify any commission amount Trinity Tablet Agreement p. 1-2 Unknown (Contract does not specify any commission amount) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
Genesee Securus 80% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment RFP Proposal p. 452 Securus 20% for entertainment RFP Proposal p. 452 No Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
Greene GTL 44% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Greene County Response p. 3/Agreement p. 3 para. 4 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
Hamilton Frontier Communications 0% Contract did not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment FOIL Response None Not available at facility FOIL Response Not applicable None Not available at facility FOIL Response In response to a FOIL request, Hamilton County stated that phone calls are free at the county jail and did not provide contracts.
Herkimer GTL 80% $1.60 for each Collect2Card call and $0.30 for each Connect2Phone call Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Report and Resolution No. 126 p. 1 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) FOIL Response Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) FOIL Response Herkimer County responded that it “has no records which meet the specifications of your request” relating to tablet or video services.
Jefferson GTL 80% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment p. 1 para. 1 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
Lewis GTL 55% “Company shall also encumber Twenty-five percent (25%) of the Gross Reveneue billed or prepaid for inmate telephone calls covered by this Agreement, and issue a monthly check to the Premise Provider for this amount in the form of a technology grant” Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment p. 1 para. 3 GTL 20% of per-minute rate Tablet Services Schedule p. 3 Yes GTL 20% Tablet Services Schedule p. 3
Livingston GTL 80% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment p. 1 para. 1 GTL 20% Amendment p. 1 para. 2 No GTL 20% (included in tablets) Amendment p. 1 para. 2
Madison GTL 80% $1.60 for each Collect2Card call and $0.30 for each Connect2Phone call Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Resolution 19-488 p. 1 GTL 20% of per-minute rate Services Schedule p. 3-4 para. 8 Yes GTL 20% Services Schedule p. 3-4 para. 8
Monroe Securus 78.50% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Resolution No. 31 of 2020 p. 1 Section 1 Securus 20% on premium tablet content/ 25% eMessaging Resolution No. 31 of 2020 p. 1 Section 1 No Securus 25% Resolution No. 31 of 2020 p. 1 Section 1
Montgomery GTL 44% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment GTL Inmate Telephone Service Agreement p. 2 para. 4 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) FOIL Response Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) FOIL Response Montgomery County responded on 9/30/2020 that they did not have a current contract. We obtained a contract that is expired, but automatically renews, from Worth Rises. As of 3/12/2021, rates for Montgomery County were listed on the GTL website.
Nassau GTL 54% $100,000 one-time sign-on payment Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment No. 1 p. 1, Use and Occupancy p. 2 para. 4 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) FOIL Response Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) FOIL Response Nassau County responded that “no records exist” relating to tablet or video services.
Niagara GTL 80% $50,000 technology grant in both 2017 and 2018 $299,000 per year Amendment p. 1 para. 2 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) GTL Contract does not seem to promise a commission Amendment p. 1, para. 3
Oneida GTL 45% $50,000 bonus in 2010 paid over 3 annual installments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment GTL Inmate Telephone Service Agreement p. 2 para. 4 Trinity 10% Amendment to the Commissary Services Agreement p. 2 para. 6 No Trinity 10% (included with tablets) Amendment to the Commissary Services Agreement p. 2 para. 6 In response to a request for the current contracts on 7/13/2020, the county provided a contract with Trinity for tablets and phones which expired on 4/20/2020. We assumed that this is the current provider. However, it is possible that the county has switched tablet and video service providers to Telmate, which is owned by GTL. Telmate’s website, as of 3/12/2021, lists that it provides tablets and video here.
Onondaga ICSolutions 65% $350,000.00 Technology Grant/Signing Bonus Contract does not guarantee minimum payment ICSolutions Contract p. 398 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) ICSolutions 65% ICSolutions Contract p. 398
Ontario Securus 65% Contract does not outline additional payments “Such compensation will be paid monthly with a minimum annual guarantee amount of $75,000. After the first 12 months and each year thereafter during the Term, the minimum annual guarantee will be 80% of the previous 12 month’s actual commissions earned” Agreement Schedule p. 7 Securus 20% of tablet rentals and eMessaging Agreement Schedule p. 10, 11 No Securus Unknown (Contract mentions these services, but does not specify any commission amount) Agreement Schedule p. 12, Securus Video Visitation Schedule p. 1
Orange GTL 50% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Inmate Telephone Service Agreement p. 2 para 5 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) FOIL Response Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) FOIL Response Orange County responded “N/A/ no such record” to the request for records relating to tablet and video services. GTL’s website lists that it provides video services as of 3/12/2021.
Orleans ICSolutions Unknown (Contract mentions these services, but does not specify any commission amount) Unknown (Contract mentions these services, but does not specify commission details) Unknown (Contract mentions these services, but does not specify commission details) Resolution No. 208-519 p. 1 None Not available at facility FOIL Response Not applicable (service not available at facility) ICSolutions Unknown (Contract mentions these services, but does not specify any commission amount) Resolution No. 208-519 p. 1 Orleans County provided some documents, but did not provide agreements with service providers. The response stated that the records requested “are trade secrets or are submitted to agency by a commercial enterprise or derived from information obtained from a commercial enterprise and which, if disclosed, would cause substantial injury to the competitive position of the subject enterprise (POL 87(2)(d)).”
Oswego GTL 80% $1.60 for each Collect2Card call and $0.30 for each Connect2Phone call Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment p. 1 para. 2 GTL 20% of per-minute rate Amendment p. 4 para. 8 Yes GTL 20% Amendment p. 4 para. 8
Otsego GTL 44% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment GTL Inmate Telephone Service Agreement p. 2 para. 4 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
Putnam GTL 80% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment p. 1 para. 1 GTL Unknown (Contract mentions these services, but does not specify any commission amount) Amendment p. 1, Service Schedule p. 2 para. 6 Unknown Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Only the first page of the service schedule was provided.
Rensselaer GTL 55% Unknown (Contract mentions these services, but does not specify commission details) $200,000 annual guarantee Amendment p. 1 para. 1-2 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) GTL Contract does not seem to promise a commission Amendment p. 1 para. 3
Rockland GTL Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) FOIL Response Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) FOIL Response Rockland County responded that Corrections does not keep responsive records. We checked service provider websites to see if Rockland County was listed; we found the county on both the GTL and Securus websites. Since GTL is also listed on the Rockland County Sheriff’s Office website, we assume this is the correct phone service provider.
Saratoga GTL 80% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment p. 1 para. 1 Keefe 15% Addendum to Commissary Service Agreement para. 3 No Keefe 15% (included in tablets) Exhibit A Description of Services p. 1
Schenectady GTL 55% “… Premise Provider is compensated on a per call basis, depending on the program implemented, either at a flat amount per call, or on a percentage of the call charge.” Contract does not guarantee minimum payment GTL Inmate Telephone Services Agreement p. 1-2 para. 4 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Schenectady County did not provide a response to FOIL requests. However, we obtained a contract from MuckRock.com. In addition, GTL’s website lists Schenectady County as one of the places it serves.
Schoharie GTL 55% of billed or prepaid “Company shall also encumber Twenty-five percent (25%) of the Gross Reveneue billed or prepaid for inmate telephone calls covered by this Agreement, and issue a monthly check to the Premise Provider for this amount.” Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Service Schedule p. 2 para. 3 GTL 20% of per-minute rate Amendment Exhibit A p. 4 para. 8 Yes GTL 20% Amendment Exhibit A p. 4 para. 8
Schuyler GTL 55% “… Premise Provider is compensated on a per call basis, depending on the program implemented, either at a flat amount per call, or on a percentage of the call charge.” Contract does not guarantee minimum payment GTL Inmate Telephone Service Agreement p. 2 para. 4 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
Seneca GTL 80% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment p. 1 para. 2 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
St. Lawrence GTL 80% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment p. 1 para. 1 GTL 10% Addendum to St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office para. 4 No GTL Unknown (Contract mentions these services, but does not specify any commission amount) Addendum to St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office para. 2
Steuben GTL 44% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Agreement p. 2 para. 4 GTL 0% Amendment p. 1 para. 2 Not applicable (indicates there is no commission on service) GTL Unknown (Contract mentions these services, but does not specify any commission amount) Amendment p. 2 para. 6.a.ii
Suffolk Securus 86% $1.60 per PayNow call + $0.30 per Text2Connect transaction fee Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Agreement Exhibit E p. 35 para. 6 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
Sullivan GTL 56% $27,000 one-time signing bonus Contract does not guarantee minimum payment GTL Inmate Telephone Service Agreement p. 2 para. 4 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Sullivan County did not provide a response to FOIL requests. However, we obtained a recent contract from MuckRock.com. In addition, Securus’s website lists Sullivan County as one of the places it serves.
Tioga GTL 80% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment p. 1 para. 3 None Not available at facility FOIL Response Not applicable (service not available at facility) None Not available at facility FOIL Response
Tompkins GTL 80% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment p. 1 para. 3 GTL 20% of per-minute rate Amendment Exhibit A p. 4 para. 8 Yes GTL 20% Amendment Exhibit A p. 4 para. 8
Ulster Securus Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
Warren GTL Unknown (Contract mentions these services, but does not specify any commission amount) Unknown (Contract mentions these services, but does not specify commission details) Unknown (Contract mentions these services, but does not specify commission details) Contract Extension Between County of Warren and Global Tel*Link Corporation p. 1 None Not available at facility FOIL Response Not applicable (service not available at facility) None Not available at facility FOIL Response Some documentation was provided in response to a FOIL request, although the contract itself was not provided.
Washington GTL 80% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment p. 1 para. 1 GTL 20% of per-minute rate Amendment Exhibit A p. 4 para. 8 Yes GTL 20% Amendment Exhibit A p. 4 para. 8
Wayne GTL 44% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment GTL Inmate Telephone Service Agreement p. 1-2 para. 4 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
Westchester GTL 62% “… B) put in escrow $200,000.00 to be used for enhanced technology at the County’s request; C) roll over an escrow balance of $61,652.63 remaining from the previous agreement into the new term; …” Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Global Tel Link August 2018 – July 2021 p. 2 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Primonics (Securus) County pays Primonics $4748.33 per month Primonics Contract No. 5717BPS p. 2
Wyoming GTL 80% “… Premise Provider is compensated on a per call basis, depending on the program implemented, either at a flat amount per call, or on a percentage of the call charge.” Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Resolution No. 20-129 p. 1 Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Unknown (did not provide contract) Did not provide contract
Yates GTL 80% Contract does not outline additional payments Contract does not guarantee minimum payment Amendment p. 1 para. 1 GTL 20% Amendment p. 1 para. 2 No GTL 20% Amendment p. 1 para. 2

Appendix 2: Which counties have bundled contracts?

This appendix table shows that the majority of counties bundle together phone calls and other services into a single contract. Bundling services together usually adds additional costs for the consumers. We chose to distinguish between counties (such as Albany) that bundled together services from a single vendor within the initial contract, and other counties (such as Broome) that signed a phone contract and then later added non-phone services to that contract via amendment. Both of these scenarios are concerning for different reasons: When counties bundle from the outset, providers can obscure the true cost of the contract and the provider’s profits, as explained in Footnote 2. And when counties add new services onto an existing contract instead of putting out a competitive request for proposals, they fail to consider whether a competing company could provide either the existing or newly-added services at a lower cost.
County Are Services Bundled?
Albany Yes: Phone, tablet, and video services were bundled in initial contract
Allegany Unknown (Did not provide contract)
Broome Yes: Tablet and video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Cattaraugus Yes: Tablet and video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Cayuga Unknown (Did not provide Tablet and Video contracts)
Chautauqua Yes: Phone and video services were bundled in initial contract
Chemung Unknown (Did not provide Tablet and Video contracts)
Chenango Unknown (Did not provide Tablet and Video contracts)
Clinton Yes: Tablet and video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Columbia Unknown (Did not provide Tablet and Video contracts)
Cortland Yes: Tablet services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Delaware Yes: Tablet and video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Dutchess Yes: Phone, tablet, and video services were bundled in initial contract
Erie Yes: Video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Essex Yes: Phone, tablet, and video services were bundled in initial contract
Franklin Yes: Tablet and video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Fulton No: Has contracts with different providers for phone and tablet services
Genesee Yes: Phone and video services were bundled in initial documents
Greene Unknown (Did not provide Tablet and Video contracts)
Hamilton N/A (Facility does not offer tablet and video services)
Herkimer Unknown (Did not provide Tablet and Video contracts)
Jefferson Unknown (Did not provide Tablet and Video contracts)
Lewis Yes: Tablet and video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Livingston Yes: Phone, tablet, and video services were bundled in initial contract
Madison Yes: Tablet and video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Monroe Yes: Phone, tablet, and video services were bundled in initial contract
Montgomery Unknown (Did not provide Tablet and Video contracts)
Nassau Unknown (Did not provide Tablet and Video contracts)
Niagara Yes: Video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Oneida Unclear: County provided contracts for different providers for phone services and tablet/video services (GTL for phones and Trinity for tablets and video). However, Telmate, a GTL subsidiary, lists that it provides tablet and video services to Oneida County on its website.
Onondaga Yes: Phone and video services were bundled in initial contract
Ontario Yes: Phone, Tablet, Video were bundled in initial contract
Orange Unknown (Did not provide Tablet and Video contracts)
Orleans Unknown (Did not provide full phone and video contracts)
Oswego Yes: Tablet and video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Otsego Unknown (Did not provide Tablet and Video contracts)
Putnam Yes: Tablet services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Rensselaer Yes: Video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Rockland Unknown (Did not provide phone, tablet, or video contracts)
Saratoga Yes: Tablet and video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment (The phone and tablet provider is Keefe, which is owned by GTL)
Schenectady Unknown (Did not provide phone, tablet, or video contracts)
Schoharie Yes: Tablet and video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Schuyler Unknown (Did not provide Tablet and Video contracts)
Seneca Unknown (Did not provide Tablet and Video contracts)
St. Lawrence Yes: Tablet and video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Steuben Yes: Tablet and video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Suffolk Unknown (Did not provide Tablet and Video contracts)
Sullivan Unknown (Did not provide phone, tablet, or video contracts)
Tioga N/A (Facility does not offer tablet and video services)
Tompkins Yes: Tablet and video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Ulster Unknown (Did not provide contract)
Warren N/A (Facility does not offer tablet and video services)
Washington Yes: Tablet and video services were added to existing phone contract via amendment
Wayne Unknown (Did not provide Tablet and Video contracts)
Westchester No: Has contracts with different providers for phone and video services (county did not provide a tablet contract)
Wyoming Unknown (Did not provide Tablet and Video contracts)
Yates Yes: Phone, tablet, and video services are in a single contract (unknown if it was set up this way initially or if additional services were added to existing contract via amendment)

Appendix 3: Where are county kickbacks directed?

Different county contracts specify different payees for the commissions. In some cases, kickbacks are paid directly to the jail, in others to the county more broadly, and in still others to a specified fund. For each county, this table shows the payee listed in the county contract.
Of course, as we have argued for years, these kickbacks are inappropriate no matter who technically receives them. As Verizon, a vocal opponent of predatory phone calls, noted in a comment to the FCC: “DOCs may use commissions to fund beneficial inmate services that may not otherwise receive funding. But forcing inmates’s families to fund these programs through their calling rates is not the answer. Because higher rates necessarily reduce inmates’s telephone communications with their families and thus impede the well-recognized societal benefits resulting from such communications, other funding sources should be pursued.”
County Phones Tablets Video
Albany County County County
Allegany Unknown (did not provide phone contract) Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Broome Broome County Jail/Premises Provider Broome County Jail/Premises Provider Broome County Jail/Premises Provider
Cattaraugus Cattaraugus County, Attn: Sheriff’s Office Premises Provider Premises Provider
Cayuga Cayuga County Jail, Sheriff David S. Gould Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Chautauqua Chautauqua County Jail Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Chautauqua County Jail
Chemung Chemung County Jail, Attn: Sheriff Christopher J. Moss Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Chenango Unknown (did not provide phone contract) Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Clinton Clinton County Jail, Attn: David Farro, Sheriff Clinton County Jail/Premises Provider Clinton County Jail/Premises Provider
Columbia Unknown (county provided incomplete documentation that leaves details of service unclear) Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Cortland Cortland County Jail Cortland County Sheriff’s Department/Premise Provider Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Delaware Unknown (county provided incomplete documentation that leaves details of service unclear) County said it does not provide this service County said it does not provide this service
Dutchess Dutchess County Sheriff’s Department, Attn: George Krom, Correction Administrator Dutchess County/Premise Provider Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Erie Erie County Sheriff’s Office, NY/Facility County said it does not provide this service Erie County Sheriff’s Office, NY/Facility
Essex Essex County Jail, Attn: Sheriff David Reynolds Essex County Jail/Premises Provider Essex County Jail/Premises Provider
Franklin Franklin County Jail/Premises Provider Franklin County Jail/Premises Provider Franklin County Jail/Premises Provider
Fulton Fulton County Jail, Attn: Sheriff Thomas J. Lorey Unknown (county provided incomplete documentation that leaves details of service unclear) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Genesee County Unknown (county provided incomplete documentation that leaves details of service unclear) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Greene Greene County Jail, Att: Daniel Frank, County Administrator Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Hamilton County said there are no commissions on phone calls County said it does not provide this service County said it does not provide this service
Herkimer Herkimer County Jail, Attn: Ms. Judy Higgins (Deposited by county to Account A 3150A.2450A, Commissions, Correctional Facility Fund) Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Jefferson Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Lewis County of Lewis/County Lewis County Jail/Premises Provider Lewis County Jail/Premises Provider
Livingston Livingston County, Attn: Chief Deputy Jason Yasso Livingston County Jail/Premises Provider Livingston County Jail/Premises Provider
Madison Madison County Jail, Attn: Sheriff Madison County/ Premises Provider Madison County/Premises Provider
Monroe Jail Administration, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office (by county resolution, payments go to trust fund 9620, T99 Jail Commissary-Phone) Jail Administration, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office (by county resulotion, payments go to trust fund 9620, T99 Jail Commissary-Phone) Jail Administration, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office (by county resulotion, payments go to trust fund 9620, T99 Jail Commissary-Phone)
Montgomery Montgomery County Treasurer Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Nassau Nassau County Correctional Center, Attn: Warren Vandewater, Budget Director Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Niagara Niagara County Sheriff’s Office Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Oneida Oneida County Sheriff’s Office/Premises Provider Oneida County Sheriff’s Office Oneida County Sheriff’s Office
Onondaga County of Onondaga/County Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) County of Onondaga/County
Ontario Ontario County/Customer Ontario County/Customer Ontario County/Customer
Orange Karen Daly, Fiscal Manager, Orange County Correctional Facility County said it does not provide this service County said it does not provide this service
Orleans County County said it does not provide this service County
Oswego Oswego County Correctional Facility Oswego County Correctional Facility/Premises Provider Oswego County Correctional Facility/Premises Provider
Otsego Otsego County Sheriff’s Department Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Putnam Putnam County, NY, Attn: Robert L. Langley Jr., Sheriff Unknown (county provided incomplete documentation that leaves details of service unclear) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Rensselaer Rensselaer County Bureau of Finance Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (county provided incomplete documentation that leaves details of service unclear)
Rockland Unknown (did not provide phone contract) Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Saratoga County of Saratoga/County Saratoga County Correctional Facility/Client Saratoga County Correctional Facility/Client
Schenectady Finance Department Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Schoharie Schoharie County Sheriff’s Office, ATTN: Sheriff Ron Stevens Schoharie County Jail/Premises Provider Schoharie County Jail/Premises Provider
Schuyler Schuyler County Jail, Attn: Sheriff William E. Yessman Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Seneca Seneca County Jail Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
St. Lawrence St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility Unknown (county provided incomplete documentation that leaves details of service unclear)
Steuben Steuben County Jail, Attn: Sheriff Joel Ordway Unknown (county provided incomplete documentation that leaves details of service unclear) Unknown (county provided incomplete documentation that leaves details of service unclear)
Suffolk County of Suffolk/County Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Sullivan Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, Attn: Sheriff Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Tioga Tioga County Jail, Att: Gary W. Howard, Sheriff County said it does not provide this service County said it does not provide this service
Tompkins Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department/Premises Provider Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department/Premises Provider Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department/Premises Provider
Ulster Unknown (did not provide phone contract) Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Warren Unknown (county provided incomplete documentation that leaves details of service unclear) County said it does not provide this service County said it does not provide this service
Washington Unknown (county provided incomplete documentation that leaves details of service unclear) Washington County Jail/Premises Provider Washington County Jail/Premises Provider
Wayne Wayne County Sheriff’s Office/Premises Provider Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Westchester County of Westchester/County Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) County said it does not provide this service
Wyoming Wyoming County Jail Unknown (did not provide tablet contract) Unknown (did not provide video contract)
Yates Unknown (county provided incomplete documentation that leaves details of service unclear) Yates County Jail/Premises Provider Yates County Jail/Premises Provider

Appendix 4: When does each county’s contract expire?

Advocates and local politicians can take note of when the current contract in your county is set to expire. Many will automatically renew unless a new contract is sought and negotiated. As you can see, some counties sent contracts that have already expired.
County Expiration date Renewal Terms Notes
Albany 2/11/22 2 one-year options for renewal
Allegany 2014 Automatically renews The full GTL contract was not provided, though the county’s FOIL response indicates that the initial contract expired in 2014 and has been renewed every year since.
Broome 2/14/22 2 one-year options for renewal
Cattaraugus 5/20/22 Does not specify renewal terms
Cayuga 10/28/19 Does not specify renewal terms In response to a request for the current contract on 5/12/2020, the county sent a contract that expired on 10/28/2019.
Chautauqua 5/31/23 Automatically renews This is a 10-year contract.
Chemung 4/10/22 Does not specify renewal terms
Chenango Unknown (contract was not provided) Unknown (contract was not provided)
Clinton 10/5/23 Automatically renews
Columbia 12/29/20 Automatically renews
Cortland 5/1/21 Automatically renews
Delaware 10/13/23 Does not specify renewal terms
Dutchess 9/29/20 Automatically renews The exact end date of this contract is unclear because the effective date (the date that the Agreement is signed by all parties) is unclear. There are no dates accompanying signatures directly; however, the signature page bears a date of 9/29/15 in the bottom left corner. We assumed that this is the effective date.
Erie 9/30/22 2 one-year options for renewal
Essex 7/1/23 Does not specify renewal terms
Franklin Unknown Unknown Full contracts were not provided; as such, the end date of the contract is unclear. The most recent amendment was signed 9/11/2020.
Fulton GTL: 10/8/23
Trinity: Unknown
GTL: automatically renews
Trinity: Unknown”
Fulton County contracts with GTL for phone services and Trinity for tablets. The agreement with Trinity does not provide an end date. The most recent date of signature on that document is 1/9/2020.
Genesee Unknown (contract was not provided) Unknown (contract was not provided) Full contracts were not provided; as such, the end date of the contract is unclear. The resolution approving Securus’s proposal, which was provided to us, was signed 5/25/2018.
Greene 6/8/14 Automatically renews
Hamilton Not applicable Not applicable In response to a FOIL request, Herkimer County stated that phone calls are free at the county jail and did not provide contracts.
Herkimer 10/25/19 Automatically renews
Jefferson 10/10/17 Automatically renews
Lewis 4/15/23 Does not specify renewal terms
Livingston GTL: 8/27/2023
Primonics: 7/18/17
Does not specify renewal terms
Madison 11/17/21 Automatically renews
Monroe 4/30/25 5 one-year options for renewal
Montgomery 4/13/17 Automatically renews Montgomery County responded on 9/30/2020 that they did not have a current contract. We obtained a contract that is expired, but automatically renews, from Worth Rises. As of 3/12/2021, rates for Montgomery County were listed on the GTL website.
Nassau 2/7/15 Does not specify renewal terms In response to a request for the current contract on 7/1/2020, the county sent a contract that expired on 2/7/2015. Nassau County also responded that “no records exist” relating to tablet or video services.
Niagara 6/17/21 Does not specify renewal terms
Oneida GTL: 6/15/2012
Trinity: 4/30/2020
GTL: automatically renews
Trinity: Does not specify renewal terms
In response to a request for the current contract on 7/13/2020, the county sent a contract with Trinity for tablets that expired on 4/20/2020. Telmate’s website, as of 3/12/2021, lists that it provides tablets and video here.
Onondaga 12/31/2021 Does not specify renewal terms
Ontario 10/27/23 1 five-year option for renewal
Orange 2/2/16 3 one-year options for renewal In response to the request for current contracts on 7/10/2020, the county sent a contract that expired on 2/2/2019 at the latest. Orange County responded “N/A no such record” to the request for records relating to tablet and video services. GTL’s website lists that it provides video services as of 3/12/2021.
Orleans 5/31/22 Unclear from the documents provided Orleans County provided no agreements with service providers. The response stated that the records requested “are trade secrets or are submitted to agency by a commercial enterprise or derived from information obtained from a commercial enterprise and which, if disclosed, would cause substantial injury to the competitive position of the subject enterprise (POL 87(2)(d)).”
Oswego 1/30/22 Automatically renews
Otsego 12/20/16 Automatically renews
Putnam Either 4/26/24 or 10/22/22 Either automatically renews or 3 one-year automatic renewals The contract states that the term of the agreement runs until 4/26/2024, though an amendment states that the term of the agreement is extended to 10/22/2022 with 3 one-year renewals.
Rensselaer 12/20/19 Unclear from the documents provided In response to the request for the current contracts on 3/1/2021, the county sent a contract that expired on 12/20/2019.
Rockland Unknown (contract was not provided) Unknown (contract was not provided) Rockland County responded that Corrections does not keep responsive records. Current rates were listed on both the GTL and Securus websites. GTL is listed on the Rockland County Sheriff’s Office website.
Saratoga GTL: Unknown
Keefe: 9/4/24
GTL: Unknown
Keefe: automatically renews
The full GTL contract was not provided; as such, the end date of the contract is unclear. The most recent amendment was signed 3/23/2020.
Schenectady 8/14/20 Automatically renews Schenectady County did not provide response to our FOIL requests. However, we obtained a contract from MuckRock.com. GTL’s website lists Schenectady County as one of the places it serves.
Schoharie 2/11/25 Does not specify renewal terms
Schuyler 3/16/25 Automatically renews
Seneca 8/9/23 Automatically renews
St. Lawrence 2/20/24 Automatically renews
Steuben 2/20/21 Automatically renews
Suffolk 4/30/19 Does not specify renewal terms
Sullivan 5/27/16 Automatically renews Sullivan County did not provide response to our FOIL requests. However, we obtained a recent contract from MuckRock.com. Securus’s website lists Sullivan County as one of the places it serves.
Tioga 5/19/25 Automatically renews
Tompkins 6/15/23 Automatically renews
Ulster Unknown (contract was not provided) Unknown (contract was not provided)
Warren None Automatically renews Some documentation was provided in response to a FOIL request, though the contract itself was not provided.
Washington 4/11/24 Does not specify renewal terms
Wayne 9/11/11 1 two-year option for renewal
Westchester GTL: 7/31/21
Primonics: 5/14/24
GTL: 1 two-year option for renewal
Wyoming 6/11/24 Does not specify renewal terms
Yates 3/16/21 Does not specify renewal terms

 

Footnotes

  1. This amount was calculated using a conservative estimate of 400 minutes of phone calls per jailed person, per month. This 400-minute estimate was based on the (rounded-down) number of minutes of use at the Albany County Jail from 2019, as well as our previous research into jail phone use. We also assumed an average phone call length of 13 minutes, based on GTL call summaries from 2017. Finally, we determined the average daily population in each jail using reports from the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services.  ↩

  2. You might wonder how private phone companies manage to turn profits in jails, even while paying such a large percentage of phone revenue to the counties in the form of kickbacks. For one, companies charge many additional hidden consumer fees on phone calls that may be exempt from kickbacks. In some instances around the country, this fee harvesting can add up to more than the base, per-minute cost of the call. Secondly, phone companies also make money off other products and services that they bundle together with phone services into a single contract. For example, commission data from Albany County shows that while Securus kicks back a whopping 86% of phone call revenue back to the county, it gives the county just 20% of revenue from video visitation and eMessaging, and 10% of revenue from music, movies, and games. In November and December 2020, according to the commissions report for Albany County, non-phone services amounted to more than three-quarters of Securus’ post-commissions revenue in Albany. These non-phone services often escape regulation and oversight by the FCC and individual states. The bundling of regulated and unregulated services into a single contract thwarts regulators’ ability to set reasonable rates for services, and allows service providers to obscure the amount of unreasonable profits that they collect under a contract, as Stephen Raher notes in his law review article, The Company Store and the Literally Captive Market. (For more on profiteering in the world of prison tablets, see our work on hidden costs in tablet contracts).  ↩

  3. A disproportionate number of New York counties use GTL. The likely reason is that the New York State Sheriff’s Association steers counties to GTL in exchange for 3% of every GTL phone call made from a jail in New York State. This kickback — which is not in the county’s contracts — is documented in a 2019 expose in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. This long-standing arrangement dates back more than 20 years, as described in this 2006 settlement with the Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York, where the Sheriff’s Association was criticized for not disclosing its financial interest in the awarding of contracts to its then-preferred vendor, AT&T. (AT&T’s jail phone business was acquired by Global Tel*Link in 2005.)

    Other researchers should note that the New York State Sheriff’s Association apparently has GTL funnel the money through a for-profit corporation it controls, “Star Governmental” (see paragraph 26 in the 2006 settlement linked above) which then pays the Sheriff’s Association. These funds are substantial. According to the non-profit tax returns of the New York State Sheriff’s Association, the Association receives approximately $460,000 per year in royalties from Star Governmental ($434,884 in 2016, $458,681 in 2017, $487,112 in 2018).  ↩

  4. New York City is not the only jurisdiction that has made phone calls free. New York’s Monroe County, home to Rochester — which already reduced phone calls to the relatively affordable cost of 10 cents a minute in 2019 — voted in March 2021 to use its phone commission fund to provide 75 minutes of free calls to each person in the jail each week; 30 of the minutes can be used on video calls. These free calls will save families an estimated $30 a month. And this trend is not confined to New York: San Francisco County made jail calls free in 2020, and in March 2021, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted to do the same.  ↩


by Wanda Bertram, March 10, 2021

We’re fighting for fair phone rates for people in jail and their families, and we just picked up a big victory. We pressured officials in Iowa to regulate the prices that predatory jail phone companies are charging. And we won.

Why Iowa? When a federal court said the FCC couldn’t regulate the cost of in-state jail phone calls, we adopted a state-by-state strategy. We’ve focused on places where state law allows regulators to cap phone rates, and where jail phone rates are the worst. Iowa is one of those states: Before our recent victory, jails there charged as much as $14.10 for a 15-minute call.

Now, the state Utilities Board has set a limit on the rates that these companies can force consumers to pay. We calculate that the new rules will save Iowans about $1 million every year. As reporter Erin Jordan explains in the Cedar Rapids Gazette:

The Iowa Utilities Board is forcing companies that provide phone service for county jail inmates to lower rates from as high as $1 a minute to a quarter or less.

Until recently, Bremer County had the highest jail phone rates in the state at $14.10 for a 15-minute call, which included $3.74 for the first minute and 74 cents after. Their service provider, Securus, lowered rates to 21 cents a minute — meaning a 15-minute call now will cost just $3.15.

The Utilities Board has not yet approved Securus’s new tariff, but has instructed the company and other providers to keep rates at 25 cents per minute or less for prepaid calls. The board has so far approved new, lower rates for five companies — Prodigy, Network Communication International Corporation, Combined Public Communications, ICSolutions and Global Tel*Link.

The exorbitant phone rates charged by jail phone companies — and ratcheted up by jails that hope to get a kickback — have caused untold suffering for families, particularly during COVID-19. For example, the Gazette interviewed a mother in Des Moines who said she has to limit the number of times her 4-year-old son can call his father, who is incarcerated.

The squeezing of these families for profit has been going on for years, but during the pandemic and recession (with in-person jail visits suspended) it has hit them harder and caused even more anguish. So even as the Prison Policy Initiative celebrates our victory, we’re pushing Iowa to do more.

Yesterday, we wrote to Governor Kim Reynolds, urging her to work with the Iowa Utilities Board to address the remaining issues of fairness for Iowa consumers, including:

  • Rates are still too high. As we wrote in our letter: “During the last year, the Board has unofficially used an informal “rate cap” of roughly 25¢ per minute, based on previous FCC rules imposing interstate rate caps of 21¢ for prepaid calls. However, much has changed since the FCC imposed those interim rate caps in 2013. In October 2020, then-chair of the FCC Ajit Pai announced a new rulemaking to lower interstate rates to 14¢ for calls from prisons, and 16¢ for calls from jails. If the FCC finalizes those changes, then many Iowa carriers would be charging substantially more for in-state calls (up to 25¢) than they could for interstate calls (16¢).”
  • Some companies are seizing unused consumer funds from prepaid accounts that should be returned to the families or turned over to the state’s unclaimed property program.
  • Five companies are “double dipping” on deposit fees, charging two fees for each credit card transaction.
  • At least one company is steering consumers to the most expensive and inefficient way to pay calls: “single calls” that require paying the $3 deposit fee on each and every call.

With at least one county in the U.S. having negotiated jail phone rates down to one cent a minute, it’s clear that companies in Iowa are still charging far more money for a phone call than they need to — so we’re continuing the fight for a better deal for incarcerated Iowans and their families.

Meanwhile, we’re taking our successful Iowa strategy to other states. We’re currently working with a broad coalition of activists and telecom experts who are urging the California Public Utilities Commission to crack down on high jail phone and video-calling rates in that state. The political momentum that we build in these key states will help us put more pressure on the FCC to address continued exploitation in this area. Mass incarceration has created far too many opportunities for companies to get rich at the expense of poor families, and our advocacy won’t stop until that exploitation ends.


Our study of 14 jails finds that there were 8% more overall minutes used during the pandemic, despite the fact that nationwide jail populations have fallen about 15%.

by Andrea Fenster, January 25, 2021

People in jails spent 8% more time on the phone over a three-month period of 2020 than in the same timeframe of 2019, according to data gathered from facilities around the country. This may come as a surprise, considering that there were fewer people behind bars to make these calls: jail populations have fallen about 15% on average since March, thanks to modest COVID-19 protection measures.

But, like the jail population reductions, the increase in phone minutes is attributable to COVID-19. Across the country, COVID-19 cases have ballooned in prisons and jails. Insufficient medical care, aging populations, poor preparedness, inability to social distance, and lack of sanitation combine in correctional facilities to create deadly conditions amidst a global pandemic. As a result, many jails have suspended in-person visitation, leaving phone and video calls as the main way for people to communicate with loved ones.

It makes sense, then, that more minutes were used in 2020 than 2019. This increase was attributable to both longer and more frequent calls: the number of calls increased by 3% and calls, on average, were 5% longer. These increases came despite the fact that many correctional facilities have used lockdowns as a COVID-19 prevention measure, which generally limit movement and phone access.

Calls from jails can be costly. For example, in one of the jails that provided data, in Pierce County, ND, a 15-minute call can cost $8.36. So when call volumes go up, billion-dollar companies like Securus–and the jails themselves–rake in the profits. Families around the country were already stretching their wallets to afford calls from their incarcerated loved ones. Now, during a pandemic that has caused mass unemployment, these phone bills are increasing as people accept longer and more frequent calls to help their loved ones maintain a lifeline to the outside world.

Methodology

To calculate changes in call volumes, we studied Securus Call Commission Reports from 2019 and 2020 in city and county jails across the nation. (We chose Securus both because it is the second-largest phone provider in prisons and jails, and because its reports are standardized across facilities, making them easy to compare.) To ensure that changes in the rates would not impact our results, we first identified Securus facilities where the per-minute call rates had not changed between our 2018 Phone Rates Survey and December 2020. We then sent record requests to 23 randomly-selected jails of varying populations, as well as 14 of the largest jails in the country, requesting each facility’s three most recent Call Commission Reports, as well as those for the same time period one year prior.

Ultimately, we received 14 complete responses as of January 21, 2021, from facilities ranging in average daily population from 12 to 3,844. 1 (The average daily population for each facility was gathered from Securus’s 2019 Annual Report to the FCC, filed October 23, 2020.)

 

Footnotes

  1. We received complete responses from Kern County, Calif.; Riverside County, Calif.; Polk County, Fla.; DeKalb County, Ga.; Fulton County, Ga.; Gwinnett County, Ga.; Penobscot County, Maine; New Hanover County, N.C.; Pierce County, N.D.; Cheshire County, N.H.; Clark County, Nev.; Henderson County, Nev.; Carver County, Minn.; and Crook County, Wyo.  ↩


We review the evidence and find 15 states that said no to unnecessary fees. Who will be next?

by Peter Wagner, November 20, 2020

The high cost of calling home from prisons and jails rightly gets a lot of attention in the press, but the industry’s practice of tacking on hidden fees is getting an increasing amount of attention from regulators and the savviest correctional facilities. These fees can be called by a variety of different names and can add up to significant costs to the families of people in prison. The problem got so bad that the companies were potentially making more from fees than from selling their product — phone calls.

The good news is that in 2015, the Federal Communications Commission prohibited or capped many of the fees that companies can charge consumers to open, have, fund or close an account. Most notably, the FCC capped the amount that can be charged for an “automated payment” i.e., to make a credit card deposit via the internet or a telephone keypad, at $3. At the time that the FCC capped those fees, some prison phone providers were charging fees as high as $9.50 to make a deposit, despite the fact that most companies in most other industries would be so thrilled to have customers pre-pay for services that they wouldn’t charge a fee at all.

The even better news is that some correctional systems are standing up for the low-income families that pay for these calls by pushing back against some of these unnecessary fees. We found that 15 state prison systems and at least one county jail1 have eliminated automated payment/deposit fees entirely.

State prison systems where there is no credit card fee to make deposits to prepaid accounts, October 2020

When consumers make pre-payment deposits to receive phone calls from these 15 state prison systems, consumers are charged only for the amount they are pre-paying for calls and not an additional payment fee. In October 2020, we attempted to make deposits to receive calls from each of the 50 states on the relevant providers’ websites, and discovered that in these 15 states, no additional fee was charged. In all other states, a $3 or similar payment fee was added to our proposed payment.
State Prison System Vendor
Arizona ICSolutions
California GTL
Delaware GTL
Indiana GTL
Kansas ICSolutions
Maryland GTL
Michigan GTL
Minnesota GTL
Montana ICSolutions
New Jersey GTL
Ohio GTL
Oregon ICSolutions
South Carolina GTL
Virginia GTL
West Virginia ICSolutions

Our survey looked only at the results of these contracts, but it seems clear from the available information that this outcome was the result of savvy negotiating by the facilities and not the generosity of the providers. How these contracts came to be is not always readily or publicly available, but we discovered enough evidence from the small number of readily available records to conclude that most or all of these 15 states sought out this result. For example, the original Requests for Proposals in Indiana and New Jersey said that the states would not accept bids that included deposit fees. And while we did not have access to Oregon’s original advertisement, the contract includes a prohibition on charging fees.

In sum, if states want to prohibit their phone companies from sticking their hands into consumer’s pockets with unnecessary fees, they can do so. Fifteen of them already have.

 

Footnotes

  1. We did not attempt to survey deposit fees for calls from jails, but we know that at least one county jail contract — Dallas, Texas with Securus — prohibits deposit/pre-payment fees.  ↩


by Peter Wagner, November 10, 2020

Yesterday, the Prison Policy Initiative filed comments before the California Public Utility Commission, calling for it to reduce the cost of calling home from California prisons and jails. Our comments included a comprehensive survey of the phone rates in each county.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission capped the cost of interstate calls at 21¢ per minute and is currently accepting comments on a proposal to lower that cap further still. However, FCC rate caps only apply to calls that cross states lines. But most calls do not cross state lines and those calls can cost far more — up to 90¢ per minute. For now, it is up to individual states to set rate caps for calls that stay within a state, so the California Public Utility Commission announced on October 19 that it was requesting comments on whether and how it should begin to regulate the industry.

Our comments review the cost of in-state calls from California facilities, as well as the too-high cost of video calls from California facilities. Our comments also addressed two other harmful practices: the prevalence of vendors bundling the phone and video services together into one complicated exploitative contract; and evidence showing that some vendors are charging more than the maximum $3 deposit fees authorized by the Federal Communications Commission.

The Utilities Commission will be accepting reply comments on November 19 and holding a pre-hearing conference on December 10. The Utilities Commission expects to have a proposed decision in the spring or summer of 2021. All of the documents filed in this rulemaking are available in Docket 20-10-002.


Amidst a pandemic and recession, policymakers should be fighting for extended — if not permanent — financial relief for incarcerated people and their families.

by Wanda Bertram, September 11, 2020

Covid-19 has put people with loved ones behind bars in a difficult bind: In-person visits are risky (and have been suspended in many places), but families have to pay in order to stay connected remotely through phone and video calls. For the past several months, some state and local governments have provided relief for these families in the form of occasional free calls. But now, as the pandemic still rages, many facilities are phasing them out.

We checked in on several counties and states that offered free calls at the beginning of the pandemic, and found that many have ended or curtailed the practice. Middlesex County, Massachusetts stopped offering free calls last week. Delaware appears to have ended free phone calls in August; Vermont ended free video calls in June. California, which in April offered three “free calling days” per week, has reduced its offering to two days per month. Pennsylvania has reduced its offer from five free phone calls a week to just one.

Officials may say (as in Middlesex County, MA) that they are phasing out free calls because they are bringing back in-person visits. But for many families, visits still aren’t safe. Family members with medical vulnerabilities may not be able to leave their homes, especially to travel to correctional facilities, which are hotbeds of viral spread. These families depend on phone and video calls as much as they would if in-person visits were still prohibited.

Even people who feel comfortable resuming in-person visits are likely still paying for more phone calls than they did before the pandemic. For one thing, in-person visits may be coming back very slowly, with only a limited number of visits available. What’s more, even where visits are fully restored, the stress of the pandemic means that most families need more communication than normal. People with friends or family behind bars need to stay up to date on their loved ones’ health and provide emotional support, especially given that chronic illnesses that make people vulnerable to the virus are more common behind bars.

The pandemic is making communication more important. Meanwhile, a recession is making communication less affordable. Even in normal times, one in three families with an incarcerated loved one go into debt paying for phone calls and visits, and 50% struggle to pay for basic housing and food needs. Withdrawing free calls now will hurt these already-needy families when they can least afford it.

In the short term, free calls should be extended as long as the pandemic and recession persist. Facilities with welfare funds for incarcerated people (ironically often funded by revenue from phone calls) should draw on these funds, if necessary, to cover the costs charged by phone and video providers. (Some welfare funds have large unspent balances.) Facilities should also pressure their providers to offer more calls free of charge, or at lower rates. Counties and states have plenty of negotiating power with their telecom providers to bring rates down — as evidenced by Dallas’s new cent-a-minute jail phone rates and Denton County, Texas’s dime-a-minute video calls.

But temporary free calls are just a stopgap measure. People with loved ones behind bars need permanent relief from the high cost of keeping in touch. The pandemic should provide an opportunity for states and counties to make long-term changes, such as renegotiating their contracts with telecom providers to secure lower rates, and ending the practice of taking kickbacks from the companies (which drives up the cost of calls for consumers). State legislatures and local governments can also pass bills to make phone calls from prison and jail cheaper or free — in California and Massachusetts, such legislation is currently on the table. Ultimately, the policymakers in charge of jail and prison communications should not be prematurely attempting to “return to normal.” Instead, policymakers should be fighting for a fairer future.


S.2846 will make phone calls free of cost for incarcerated people and their families in Massachusetts.

by Jenny Landon, September 4, 2020

The Prison Policy Initiative joined a coalition of over 100 organizations, legal service providers, public defenders, social workers, and directly impacted people to sign on to a letter urging the Massachusetts State Legislature to pass S.2846, a bill that would make phone calls free of cost for incarcerated people and their families.

The burden of expensive phone calls overwhelmingly falls on family members, especially on women: in Massachusetts, families pay $24 million per year to stay connected to their incarcerated loved ones, and a national study found that the cost will put one in three families into debt. Black and brown people in Massachusetts are disproportionately criminalized and targeted by police, so expensive phone calls to correctional institutions disproportionately strip money out of the pocketbooks of families of color.

Before the pandemic hit, more than 50 percent of families with an incarcerated loved one struggled to pay for basic housing and food needs. With the economic hardship brought on by COVID-19, it is now urgent that Massachusetts stops subsidizing our exploitative and expensive carceral system with regressive costs that fall on the most impoverished in the state.

In Massachusetts, there are thousands of people held in jails pre-trial because they cannot afford bail, and their phone calls are the most expensive of all incarcerated people in the state. When people can’t get together the funds to get out of jail, exorbitant phone rates only make a difficult time even harder. Not only do people held pre-trial need to coordinate childcare or elder care, make arrangements for missing work, have prescriptions brought to the facility, or simply have someone to talk to while incarcerated, they also have to organize their defense.

People detained pretrial are more likely to plead guilty just to get out of jail, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to get longer sentences. Costly phone calls play a central role in this injustice by limiting how often and how long pretrial detainees can talk to their families and friends in the service of their defense. As a result, pretrial detainees often present a weaker defense than they would have if they had been able to make calls freely. On a systemic level, high phone rates from jails hurt indigent defendants by draining already-scarce resources from public defenders’ offices.

As written in the full letter:

As a result of the work of Black organizers, constituents across the Commonwealth understand that no-cost calls are about keeping families together. People should not be forced to pay for a lifeline, nor the programs offered by the DOC and county facilities. It is unconscionable that in this moment a mother is forced to choose between buying groceries and talking to her incarcerated child or that a child would need to forego hearing his incarcerated mother’s voice when they most need comfort. The Commonwealth must intervene to ensure that corporations can no longer profit from lines of communication that are critical to creating the support networks necessary for success upon reentry. We respectfully ask you to pass S. 2846 this session!

For these reasons and many more, we urge the Massachusetts State Legislature to pass S.2846. Are you in Massachusetts and want to support this bill? Call your representatives and senators!


Send our letter to your local jail, asking them to make video and phone calls free.

by Bernadette Rabuy and Wanda Bertram, March 17, 2020

As jails and prisons across the country suspend in-person visits to slow the spread of COVID-19, families are being rapidly cut off from their incarcerated loved ones. Phone calls and video calls are now the only option for anxious families trying to stay in touch. It’s more important than ever that these calls be available at no cost.

We prepared a template letter for local advocates fighting to preserve family contact in jails during the COVID-19 pandemic. Advocates are encouraged to customize our letter as needed and send it to their county sheriff or jail warden or administrator. The full text of the letter is below, and a shorter version of the letter follows (for people in counties where public comments must be under 300 words).

Dear [Sheriff/Warden name],

Your office recently took the step of [suspending/restricting] in-person visitation at [jail name] to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While there is no question that in-person visitation can be risky at this time, incarcerated people and their families must be able to communicate in order to endure this trying, confusing, and constantly evolving pandemic.

We are writing to request your leadership in protecting incarcerated people and their loved ones by providing phone and video calls free of cost for at least thirty days – as sheriffs have done in the past on special occasions, such as Christmas, and as has been recommended by prosecutors nationwide. Other counties, such as Shelby County, Tennessee, have already taken this simple and critical step.

As you know, there is a general panic as cases of COVID-19 spread. Incarcerated people’s loved ones are even more likely to be concerned. Correctional facilities are filled with people with chronic illnesses and complex medical needs; these people are at a particularly high risk for serious complications from infections like COVID-19. Moreover, it can be difficult for correctional facilities to prevent unsanitary and overcrowded conditions, which also put people at risk for COVID-19.

While the decision to halt visits may be best for public health reasons, it puts loved ones in a bind. Families are forced to check in with their incarcerated loved ones by paying for phone or video calls. But incarcerated people and their loved ones are disproportionately low-income, and likely to be employed in fields most impacted financially by social distancing. Unless you make changes, families will likely have to choose between purchasing essential groceries or a phone call with Mom or Dad.

If [jail name] has a welfare fund for incarcerated people or has otherwise collected commissions from the fees charged for communication services, instituting a policy of free calls would be the best immediate use of that funding. You may even discover unexpected benefits to a temporary policy of free calls: For example, increased communication with loved ones has been shown to reduce misconduct in facilities by lowering anxiety and tension. Stability may be one reason jurisdictions like New York City have shifted to free phone calls permanently.

With tensions running high in [jail name] as well as in our communities, waiving the costs of phone and video calls is a simple step your office can take to provide comfort to families and protect public safety, both in and outside of the jail. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Shorter version:

Dear [Sheriff/Warden name],

Your office recently took the step of [suspending/restricting] in-person visitation at [jail name] to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While in-person visitation can be risky at this time, incarcerated people and their families must be able to communicate in order to endure this constantly evolving pandemic.

We are writing to request your leadership in protecting incarcerated people and their loved ones by providing phone and video calls free of cost for at least 30 days – as other counties have done, and as has been recommended by prosecutors nationwide.

With visitation halted, families are forced to check in with their incarcerated loved ones by paying for phone or video calls. But incarcerated people and their families are disproportionately low-income, and likely to be employed in fields most impacted financially by social distancing. Unless you make changes, families will likely have to choose between purchasing essential groceries or a phone call with Mom or Dad.

If [jail name] has a welfare fund for incarcerated people or has otherwise collected commissions from communication services, a policy of free calls would be the best immediate use of that funding. You may even discover unexpected benefits, like how increased communication with loved ones has been shown to reduce misconduct in facilities by lowering anxiety and tension. Stability may be one reason jurisdictions like New York City have shifted to free phone calls permanently.

With tensions running high in [jail name] and in our communities, waiving the costs of phone and video calls is a simple step your office can take to provide comfort to families and protect public safety, both in and outside of the jail. Thank you for your attention to this matter.




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