FIGHT AGAINST EXPLOITATION The prison and jail telephone industry is ripping off incarcerated people and their families. Join us in the fight to end this exploitation, so that people behind bars and their families can afford to stay in touch.

Thank you,

—Peter Wagner, Executive Director
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Phones archives

Evidence from court case shows why the FCC should act to stop abusive practices in the industry.

by Stephen Raher, September 7, 2022

On August 30, a federal court in Georgia approved a settlement in the years-long class action lawsuit against Global Tel*Link Corporation (“GTL”), one of the two major providers of phone services in prisons and jails. This litigation challenged GTL’s policy of seizing customer money from “prepaid accounts” after a short period of inactivity. Just as important, though, it shows why the FCC needs to take action to end this type of abusive practice throughout the industry.

Under the terms of the settlement, GTL will provide cash payments to some customers, account credits to others, and will institute a uniform policy of not seizing customer funds until accounts have been inactive for a minimum of 180 days. GTL has also agreed to implement procedures to warn customers before their accounts are declared inactive. Prison Policy Initiative filed an amicus brief in the case, pointing out certain ambiguities in the settlement agreement — our concerns were addressed by the addition of clarifying language in the court order approving the settlement.

One of the more interesting facts revealed in the case came at the very end — just days before the final hearing, the court denied GTL’s request to keep secret the amount of money it has taken from “inactive” accounts over the years. Although the court allowed GTL to keep such amounts secret for recent periods (specifically, September 2021 onward), we now know that from April 2011 through August 2019, GTL took over $121 million from customer accounts that it declared inactive — this averages to over $1.2 million a month. This isn’t money that GTL earned in return for providing a service, it’s simply money that GTL took because it could.

We have pointed out this shocking figure to the FCC, along with a request to enact rules that would prohibit companies from taking funds like this. Even though GTL has agreed to some reforms as a result of the class-action settlement, other telecom companies can and do seize customer funds in a similar manner, and no company should be able to enrich itself by taking money simply because a customer hasn’t made a call in recent months.

 

Information about the settlement

Although the deadline to file a claim for cash payments has passed, customers with active or reactivated accounts are still eligible to receive credits. See the official class website at https://gtlprepaidsettlement.com/FAQ.


Securus wants the FCC to waive its rules, but won’t disclose important details about how the plans work.

by Wanda Bertram, January 10, 2022

Securus, a giant prison phone company with a history of misconduct, recently petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to give the company special permission to peddle flat-rate subscription plans in lieu of charging callers a set amount per minute. The Prison Policy Initiative asked the FCC today to reject Securus’s flimsy bid for special regulatory treatment. In our comments to the FCC, we express our concerns with Securus’s petition:

  1. Subscription plans could be a good deal for consumers. Or they could be a rip-off. As with most things, the devil is in the details, but Securus hasn’t provided any details on how its subscriptions work. The company’s marketing materials play down or completely omit important details about the plans — for example, that all payments you make via the subscription model are non-refundable, even in the (quite common) case that your loved one can’t use the phone for days or weeks. Securus emphasizes the potentially positive aspects of its subscription products while withholding most details that could make customers reasonably question the value of a subscription plan.
  2. Securus makes several claims about its subscription plan — including claiming that a pilot of the subscription plan showed “increased call length” and “reduced costs” — without providing any supporting data.
  3. Securus claims that the “effective” per-minute rates for its subscription plans are “well below” the FCC’s current rate caps, but this claim is based on the debatable assumption that subscribers will use all the minutes they possibly can.
  4. Securus has declined to disclose important details about its pilot of the subscription model, such as how many customers subscribed, what subscribers’ average usage was, what the average per-minute rate for users was, and what Securus’s profit margin on subscription programs was.
  5. We still don’t know what counts as a “call” under the subscription pricing plan. If an incarcerated caller places a call but no one answers, this may count against the weekly or monthly allowance, making subscriptions a far worse deal for consumers. This is just one of several material questions that Securus doesn’t answer in its petition.
  6. Securus hasn’t even precisely defined what it wants. At various points in the petition it states that it wants to: continue its pilot subscription program at eight prisons and jails, expand the program, or let any phone company offer subscription plans.

The FCC shouldn’t waive its long-standing rules for Securus unless it would clearly serve the public interest to do so. Securus should face a high burden of proof before the FCC grants it special treatment, particularly given the company’s history of nickel-and-diming its customers.

You can read our full comments here.


The research is clear: visitation, mail, phone, and other forms of contact between incarcerated people and their families have positive impacts for everyone — including better health, reduced recidivism, and improvement in school. Here’s a roundup of over 50 years of empirical study, and a reminder that prisons and jails often pay little more than lip service to the benefits of family contact.

by Leah Wang, December 21, 2021

To incarcerated people and their families, it’s glaringly obvious that staying in touch by any means necessary — primarily through visits, phone calls, and mail — is tremendously important and beneficial to everyone involved. Yet prisons and jails are notorious for making communication difficult or impossible. People are incarcerated far from home and visitation access is limited, phone calls are expensive and sometimes taken away as punishment, mail is censored and delayed, and video calls and emerging technologies are all too often used as an expensive (and inferior) replacement for in-person visits.

Prison- and jail-imposed barriers to family contact fly in the face of decades of social science research showing associations between family contact and outcomes including in-prison behavior, measures of health, and reconviction after release. Advocates and families fighting for better, easier communication behind bars can turn to this research, which demonstrates that encouraging family contact is not only humane, but contributes to public safety.

 
 

In-person visitation is incredibly beneficial, reducing recidivism and improving health and behavior

The positive effects of visitation have been well-known for decades — particularly when it comes to reducing recidivism. A 1972 study on visitation that followed 843 people on parole from California prisons found that those who had no visitors during their incarceration were six times more likely to be reincarcerated than people with three or more visitors. A few years later, researchers found similar results in a study of people paroled from Hawaii State Prison.

a chart people in state prisons who received visitors were less likely to return to prison after release.

Since the 1970s, the body of evidence in favor of prison visitation has only grown. In 2008, researchers found that among 7,000 people released from state prisons in Florida, each additional visit received during incarceration lowered the odds of two-year recidivism by 3.8 percent (in this study, recidivism was defined as reconviction). Findings out of Minnesota a few years later were similar: Receiving one visit per month was associated with a 0.9 percent decrease in someone’s risk of reincarceration; better yet, each unique visitor to an incarcerated person reduced the risk of re-conviction by a notable 3 percent.1 Among people who received visits during their incarceration, felony re-convictions were 13 percent lower and revocations for technical violations of parole were 25 percent lower compared to people who did not receive visits.

Visitation is also correlated with adherence to prison rules. In 2019, an Iowa researcher found that in-prison misconduct (as measured by official citations) was reduced in people who received visits at Iowa state prisons. Based on these results, one additional visit per month would reduce misconduct by a further 14 percent. “Probably as a direct result of the reduced misconducts,” the study’s author notes, “a similar increase in visitation would also reduce time served by 11 percent.”

These findings add to other recent studies linking visitation and reduced prison misconduct. The timing of visits may matter, as visiting “privileges” can swiftly be taken away as a cruel punishment: According to one study, misconduct tended to decrease in the three weeks before a visit. This may explain why more frequent visits lead to more consistent good behavior, better overall outcomes and post-release success. Families who visit, concluded Holt and Miller in the California study, are a “prime treatment agent” for incarcerated people.2

Research has also found that visitation is linked to better mental health, including reduced depressive symptoms — an important intervention for the isolated, stressful experience of incarceration. Yet even before the pandemic halted visitation, and despite these known benefits, correctional facilities have made visitation hard due to remote locations, harsh policies, and the financial incentives to replace visits with inferior video calls.

 
 

Consistent phone calls to family improve relationships

Phone calls tend to be more common than in-person visitation, as they involve fewer logistical barriers. In fact, the key studies we found reveal that 80 percent or more respondents used phone calls to contact family, far more than the number receiving visits, and sometimes more than those using mail to keep in contact.3 As with visitation, family phone calls are shown to reduce the likelihood of recidivism; more consistent and/or frequent phone calls were linked to the lowest odds of returning to prison.

A 2014 study of incarcerated women found that those who had any phone contact with a family member were less likely to be reincarcerated within the five years after their release. In fact, phone contact had a stronger effect on recidivism compared to visitation, which the study also examined.

Of course, reduced recidivism is not the only benefit. A 2020 survey of incarcerated parents showed that parent-child relationships improved when they had frequent (weekly) phone calls.

These positive findings have not gone unnoticed by senior policy makers: “Meaningful communication beyond prison walls helps to promote rehabilitation and reduce recidivism,” explained Mignon Clyburn of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a 2015 statement on the high cost of phone calls. “In a nation as great as ours, there is no legitimate reason why anyone else should ever again be forced to make these levels of sacrifices, to stay connected.”4

Given the frequency and importance of phone calls from prisons and jails, their prohibitive cost in many jurisdictions and the loss of phone “privileges” as a punishment are both inhumane and counterproductive.

 
 

Mail correspondence is a lifeline, and taking it away only hurts families

Mail is widely understood as a major lifeline for incarcerated people, with some literature finding that it’s the most common form of family contact.The fulfilling feeling of receiving personal mail, the ability to write and read (and reread) mail at one’s own pace, and the relatively low cost of a letter mean that it’s a highly practical and cherished mode of communication, universal to people both inside and outside of prison. And while prison mail hasn’t taken center stage in academic literature, some of the studies mentioned earlier did examine mail contact as part of their methods, finding that it contributes to parent-child attachment and relationship quality.

Yet mail is another example of a service whose benefits become obvious once it’s under attack. In 2007, notoriously cruel Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff Joe Arpaio instituted a postcard-only policy in the county jail, with sheriffs in at least 14 states following suit. These postcard-only policies severely limit parents’ and children’s ability to stay in touch. A study of incarcerated parents in Arizona cited mail as the most common mode of communication with their children, and those who used mail contact reported improved relationships with their children as compared to the year before their incarceration. Postcards also change the economic argument for mail correspondence: With their tiny physical space available for writing, we found that relaying information on a postcard is about 34 times as expensive as in a letter.

In recent years, other correctional systems have embraced another mail-restriction policy that advocates know is harmful: The telecom company Smart Communications has created “MailGuard,” a mail digitization service marketed as a response to (exaggerated) claims of contraband entering prisons through the mail. MailGuard’s scans of letters and photographs tend to be low-quality, and privacy is clearly violated as one’s mail is opened and scanned. We’ve criticized this practice and maintain that mail scanning is a poor substitute for true mail correspondence.5

 
 

Video calling and emerging technologies could enhance carceral contact if they weren’t prohibitively expensive

Sometimes billed as “video visitation,” video calling from prisons and jails allows families to connect virtually. Used effectively as a supplement, video calls could help eliminate many of the barriers that in-person visitation presents. However, we’ve argued time and time again that these calls fail to replicate the psychological experience — and therefore benefits — of in-person visitation, and should never be used as a replacement. A 2014 survey found incarcerated people in Washington State were pleased when video calling allowed family to see them, but extremely frustrated by the cost and significant technical challenges of the software. Video calling is a “double-edged sword” providing a mediocre service while lining the pockets of private corporations.

Most advocates and groups (including the American Correctional Association) agree that video calling should only supplement in-person visitation, not replace it entirely. But anecdotally, some corrections officials offer video calling only, and promote it as a safer and more efficient option to visitation. (In terms of safety, the argument that most contraband is introduced into prisons through visitation is a myth we’ve busted.)

In fact, taking away visitation can make prisons and jails less safe. For example, when in-person visits were banned at the jail in Knox County, Tennessee, in favor of video-only visitation, incarcerated people lost the opportunity to maintain healthy social connections. As a result, assaults between incarcerated people and assaults on staff increased in the months after the ban on visits was implemented. Data also show that, similar to the Iowa study mentioned earlier, disciplinary infractions in the jail increased after the ban.

Rate of assaults increased after in-person visits were eliminated in Knox County, TN Though the Knox County, Tennessee Sheriff’s Office claimed video-only visitation would be safer, the data suggest the opposite: The replacement of family visits with video calls at the Knox County Detention Facility resulted in more assaults between incarcerated people and on staff. There was also no drop in the rate of reported contraband, and there were higher levels of disciplinary infractions at the jail. See more of the devastating findings compiled by the grassroots coalition Face to Face Knox.

The Knox County research wasn’t an isolated finding: In Travis County, Texas, there was an escalation of violence and contraband after that jail switched from offering both video calls and visitation for a few years, to banning in-person visitation altogether. The change also reduced overall family contact: The number of video calls dropped dramatically compared to the average number of in-person visits that had happened at the jail before the policy change. As it turns out, the availability of both in-person visitation and video calling actually increased the average number of in-person monthly visits. And unsurprisingly, visitors who were surveyed overwhelmingly preferred in-person visitation to video calling. In 2015, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office reinstated in-person visits.

Technologies like video calling (and electronic messaging) have the potential to improve quality of life for incarcerated people and help correctional administrators run safer and more humane facilities. New research suggests that video calls may even help reduce recidivism (but only when they supplement in-person visits). Sadly, the promise of these new services is often tempered by a relentless focus on turning incarcerated people and their families into revenue streams.

 
 

Families endure tremendous hardship due to incarceration, but staying in touch can mitigate negative impacts

Many of the studies discussed here focused on the benefits of family contact for incarcerated people. But what about their families — do they gain from the time spent visiting, writing, or calling? Research says yes, family contact also provides relief to the family of an incarcerated person. This is important, because simply having an incarcerated loved one indicates poorer health and a shorter lifespan. In particular, children — the “hidden victims” of incarceration — are at increased risk for mental health problems and substance use disorders, and face worse intellectual outcomes compared to children without an incarcerated family member. (Youth can themselves be confined in detention facilities, turning parents into visitors; similar to the research explored earlier, visitation of confined youth was remarkably beneficial.6)

Research suggests that families who visited during a loved one’s incarceration show improved mental health measures and have a higher probability of remaining together after release. And a 1977 study, explained in a larger review of family contact research, found that children who had displayed concerning behavior upon their fathers’ incarceration showed improved behavior after visiting with their fathers.

The R Street Institute sums it up nicely: Supportive family relationships can promote psychological and physiological health for incarcerated people and their loved ones, at a time when everyone’s health is otherwise deteriorating. When done well, visitation can ease anxiety in children and mitigate some of the impacts on strained interpersonal relationships. Serving families at this most critical period simply makes communities healthier.

 
 

Making family contact readily available should be a no-brainer for prisons and jails

Of course, staying in touch with an incarcerated person is almost never easy. There can be great distress and tension as a family navigates its role, and the inconsistent timing and frequency of contact can be unsettling to someone whose incarceration is overly predictable and tedious, while life outside can be anything but.

Still, academic research is unified in its message that family contact during incarceration provides immense benefits, both during incarceration and the reentry period. Prisons and jails should make all types of family contact safely and equitably available, and end the practice of taking contact away as a punishment for rule violations. And with no certain access to visitation as the pandemic wears on, families and incarcerated people should receive more phone and video time, fewer fees, and better mail options in order to preserve family ties and the critical benefits that result from family contact.

Below, we’ve compiled all of the research discussed and linked above as a bibliography for our readers. And for further reading on the harmful restrictions on communication between incarcerated people and their loved ones, see our resources on visitation and our campaigns fighting for phone, mail, and visitation justice.

 
 

Bibliography

Adams, D. & J. Fischer (1976). The effects of prison residents’ community contacts on recidivism rates Paywall :(. Corrective & Social Psychiatry & Journal of Behavior Technology, Methods & Therapy, 22(4): 21-27.

Agudelo, S.V. (2013). The Impact of Family Visitation on Incarcerated
Youth’s Behavior and School Performance: Findings from the Families as Partners Project
. Vera Institute of Justice Family Justice Program.

Bales, W. D. & D. P. Mears (2008). Inmate Social Ties and the Transition to Society: Does Visitation Reduce Recidivism? Paywall :( Journal of Research in Crime and Deliquency 45(3): 287-321.

Barrick, K. Lattimore, P. K., & Visher, C. A. (2014). Reentering Women: The Impact of Social Ties on Long-Term Recidivism. The Prison Journal 94(3): 279-304.

Bertram, W. (2021). The Biden Administration must walk back the MailGuard program banning mail from home in federal prisons. Blog post. Prison Policy Initiative.

Cochran, J. C. (2012). The ties that bind or the ties that break: Examining the relationship between visitation and prisoner misconduct Paywall :(. Journal of Criminal Justice 40(5): 433-440.

Clyburn, M. (2013). Statement re: Rates for Interstate Inmate Calling Services, WC Docket 12-375. Federal Communications Commission.

De Claire, K. & L. Dixon (2015). The Effects of Prison Visits From Family Members on Prisoners’ Well-Being, Prison Rule Breaking, and Recidivism: A Review of Research Since 1991. Trauma Violence & Abuse 18(2): 1-15.

Digard, L., J. LaChance, & J. Hill (2017). Closing the Distance: The Impact of Video Visits in Washington State. Vera Institute of Justice.

Duwe, G. & V. Clark (2011). The Effects of Prisoner Visitation on Offender Recidivism. Criminal Justice Policy Review 24(3): 271-296.

Duwe, G. & S. McNeeley (2020). Just as Good as the Real Thing? The Effects of Prison Video Visitation on Recidivism. Crime & Delinquency 67(2): 1-23.

Fulcher, P. A. (2013). The Double-Edged Sword of Prison Video Visitation: Claiming to Keep Families Together While Furthering the Aims of the Prison Industrial Complex. Florida A&M Law Review 9 (1): 83-112.

Hairston, C.F. (1991). Family Ties During Imprisonment: Important to Whom and For What? Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare 18(1): 87-104.

Haverkate, D. L. & Wright, K. A. (2020). The differential effects of prison contact on parent-child relationship quality and child behavioral changes. Corrections: Policy, Practice, & Research 5: 222-244.

Holt, N. & D. Miller (1972). Explorations in Inmate-Family Relationships. Sacramento, Calif.: California Department of Corrections Research Division.

Lee, L. M. (2019). Far From Home and All Alone: The Impact of Prison Visitation on Recidivism. American Law and Economics Review 21(2): 431-481.

Mooney, E. & N. Bila (2018). The importance of supporting family connections to ensure successful re-entry. R Street Institute.

Poehlmann, J. (2005). Children’s Family Environments and Intellectual Outcomes During Maternal Incarceration Paywall :(. Journal of Marriage and Family 67(5): 1275-1285.

Renaud, J. (2014). Video Visitation: How private companies push for visits by video and families pay the price. Grassroots Leadership and Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

Renaud, J. (2018). Who’s really bringing contraband into jails? Our 2018 survey confirms it’s staff, not visitors. Prison Policy Initiative.

Sakala, L. (2013). Return to Sender: Postcard-Only Mail Policies. Prison Policy Initiative.

Siennick, S. E. et al (2012). Here and Gone: Anticipation and Separation Effects of Prison Visits on Inmate Infractions Paywall :(. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 50(3): 417-444.

Tahamont, S. (2011). The Effect of Visitation on Prison Misconduct [poster presentation]. IGERT Program in Politics, Economics and Psychology at University of California, Berkeley.

Wagner, P. & A. Jones (2019). State of Phone Justice. Prison Policy Initiative.

Widra, E. (2016). Travis County, Texas: A Case Study on Video Visitation. Prison Policy Initiative,

Widra, E. (2021). New data: People with incarcerated loved ones have shorter life expectancies and poorer health. Prison Policy Initiative.

See the full bibliography

 
 

Footnotes

  1. In this study, both family members and non-family members like mentors and clergy were connected to this reduced risk of recidivism.  ↩

  2. More importantly, Holt and Miller assert that “correctional systems can no longer afford to incarcerate inmates in areas so remote from their home communities as to make visiting virtually impossible.” Located in inconvenient areas for many, prisons are getting in their own way when it comes to treatment and rehabilitation.  ↩

  3. For example, in a 2020 study examining contact between children and their incarcerated female parents, researchers found that when children communicated with their parents in prison, 76% of those who used phone contact did so weekly, 45% who used mail did so weekly, and 31% who visited did so weekly.  ↩

  4. The FCC, which regulates the cost of phone calls in the United States, has made strides in capping prison and jail phone rates and shutting down abusive practices by telecom companies. (We have successfully fought for some of these changes.)  ↩

  5. While there are still many harmful policies in place, some prisons and jails have backed down when families and the courts call out these attacks on mail, such as in Portland, Oregon, in 2012 and in Santa Clara County, California, in 2015.  ↩

  6. A study of family visitation frequency in Ohio juvenile facilities found that youth who were visited by family regularly (defined as weekly) had a grade point average that was 2.1 points higher than youth who were infrequently or never visited. Additionally, behavioral incidents decreased as the overall frequency of visitation increased among the families of confined youth. The researchers note that white youth in this study had higher GPAs than nonwhite youth, and that factors beyond their control could be contributing to the calculation of GPAs of youths of different races, so they suggest that the results merit further exploration. Still, frequent family visitation did improve GPAs after controlling for race and other variables.  ↩


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

by Stephen Raher, September 29, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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


by Wanda Bertram, September 10, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our data on Wisconsin and further resources

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

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

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

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

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 Automatically renews
Cayuga 10/28/19 Automatically renews 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 Automatically renews
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 automatic renewals
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
Automatically renews
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 Automatically renews
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 Automatically renews
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 Automatically renews
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.  ↩




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