Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Inside the Shadowy Business of Prison Phone Calls

An IBTimes investigation into the secretive world of selling phone calls to inmates and their families.


Over the last decade, the prison phone business has become a scandalous industry, characterized by lawsuits, exorbitant fees, high phone rates and monopolistic relationships between public jails and private companies that openly offer kickbacks to local sheriffs. In May 2015, Foster Campbell, the Louisiana Public Service commissioner, described the prison phone business in his state as “worse than any payday loan scheme.”

“Regardless of what they’re using the money for, this is about shifting the cost of the police state onto the backs of the poor people being policed,” says Paul Wright, executive director of Human Rights Defense Center and a longtime advocate for more affordable prison phone rates.

In June, Jones provided International Business Times with her Securus-related bills.

Even a cursory examination of the documents reveals several questionable fees, including a $3.99 “wireless administration fee,” and a $7.95 payment processing fee every time she loads money into Nate’s commissary account. At Hays County jail, where her son is incarcerated, a 25-minute video call costs $7.99, which is actually a pretty good price compared to the the $20 (for a 20-minute call) she paid Securus when he was locked up in nearby Bastrop County Jail. A 15-minute phone call, also operated by Securus, costs $9.29, plus tax. Ironically, because of recent Federal Communications Commission regulations, out-of-state calls should be a little bit cheaper, but because Jones has a Texas area code on her cell phone, the calls are more expensive.


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