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Inmate Phone System - Application in Correctional Facilities in the United States

TIME : 2022-10-27 HITS : 41

Inmate Phone System - Application in Correctional Facilities in the United States

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The Inmate Phone System, also known as Inmate Calling Service (ICS) or Inmate Phone Service, is a telephone service for inmates in U.S. correctional facilities. Inmates' phone service helps them recover by allowing them to communicate consistently with their families and legal counsel while incarcerated.

In the U.S.,prison telecommunicationsis a $1.2 billion industry largely controlled by two private equity-backed companies — Global Tel Link (GTL), with a 50 percent market share as of 2015. and Securus Technologies, 20%. The prison telecommunications industry has come under scrutiny because of the nature of its business model, as high commissions paid by providers as part of exclusive contracts with individual facilities are passed on to consumer services through service rates significantly higher than standard telephones. While U.S. telecommunications regulators have tried, the FCC's policy to regulate the cost of inmates' phone service, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled its policy violated the Telecommunications Act, which prohibits the FCC from regulating intrastate communications.


In order to use the prisoner phone service, prisoners must register and provide a list of names and phone numbers of those with whom they intend to communicate. Call limits vary depending on the prison's internal rules, but are generally limited to 15 minutes per call, and inmates must wait 30 minutes before speaking again. Calls are recorded and monitored by prison staff. Phone credits are usually accessed through prisoner account cards. Since 2001, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has mandated a monthly limit of 300 minutes.


In the US, the prisoner phone market is dominated by two suppliers, Global Tel-Link (GTL) and Securus Technologies, with Global Tel-Link controlling approximately 50% of the market and Securus 20%. Veritas Capital, a New York-based private equity firm with over $5 billion in assets, acquired GTL during the tenure of Veritas founder and CEO Robert B. McKeon. Alabama-based GTL, which became a subsidiary of GTEL Holdings in 2009, provides "prisoner communications, investigations, facilities management, visitation, payment and deposit, and content solutions."

In 2011, New York-based American Securities bought GTL for $1 billion, and Boston-based ABRY Partners bought Securus in 2013 for $640 million. When global private equity firm Castle Harlan acquired Securus Technologies in 2011 from Miami-based private equity firm HIG Capital, they claimed that Securus was a "leading provider" of "prisoner telecommunications for the corrections industry."

service rate

Prior to the 1990s, in the United States, rates for telephone service in prisons were similar to those offered to the public through commercial providers. Since then, prison phone service providers have started charging more for phone service than traditional home phone service. Illinois Congressman Bobby L. Rush introduced the Home Phone Connection Protection Act of 2007, opening discussions on prisoner phone rate regulation. The bill sets the actual cost of prison phone service and hopes to standardize rates for inmate phone service providers in 2009 or 2010.

One of the reasons for the marked increase in phone rates is that facilities have exclusive concession contracts with specific companies to provide inmate calling services to all inmates, often in favor of providers who offer larger commissions to facilities through service charges. A 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service cited concerns expressed by Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE) that "phone providers often pay prison operators a significant percentage of what they charge for inmates' collect calls. A large portion, then charged to inmates. Much higher than general market service rates...phone service commissions...up to 45-65% of the total revenue generated by the service." Federal officials and states have "Reliant on a small number of companies," the rise of the "prison-industrial complex" was "reliant on government funding" and "in the continuation or expansion of the prison system."  Contractual arrangements with service providers, claims NWSA" ensure security and allow them to monitor prisoner phones" and "change the rules could jeopardize public safety". Bloomberg Businessweek reported in 2014 that exorbitant rates are often made to compensate for high commissions paid to vendors' service facilities. These practices are often criticized by prisoners' families, who argue that these providers exploit their personal situation for profit. Correctional facilities and law enforcement agencies often reject attempts to lower these fees, arguing that they provide additional funding to support facility operations, such as security.

On August 9, 2013, the FCC passed a report on the high cost of inmate calling services and recommended reforms. A 2013 FCC analysis described that in some cases, long-distance calls can be charged six times the outside rate, or in other cases, a fifteen-minute call can cost more than $15. [It also reported that phone bills "caused prisoners and their friends and family to subsidize everything from prisoner benefits to wages and benefits, state general revenue funds and personnel training". At the time, the FCC proposed capping interstate inmate calls at $3.75 for 15 minutes. The proposal was approved in 2014; a cap was also implemented to reduce the high cost of long-distance calls incurred by prisoners to 11 cents a minute, so that a 15-minute call should not cost more than $4. According to the FCC, Global Tel-Link has been charging as much as $17.30 for such calls under contracts with facilities in Arkansas, Georgia and Minnesota, resulting in "excessively high phone bills for inmate families". outrageous". In retaliation for the change, service providers raised rates for local calls.

In 2015, the FCC imposed a new cap of 11 cents to 22 cents on all inmate phone calls. The decision was criticized by the industry, who argued that the cap price was insufficient to cover the commissions they had to pay. By March, the new cap had been pending the outcome of a lawsuit by vendors against the FCC, but the FCC said it would also enforce the existing cap on in-state calls. In September 2015, Human Rights Watch asked Michael Fisch, chief executive of American Securities, the private equity group that owns GTL, to step down from his board, saying "GTL's exploitation of prisoners' ability to communicate with their families and children and the preservation of human dignity and advancing human rights, in direct conflict with Human Rights Watch’s mission.”

In November 2016, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted a stay requested by Securus to block a compromise proposed by the FCC to cap rates for interstate and intrastate calls at 13 cents to 31 cents a minute. Following the sojourn, Ajit Pai criticized Democrats for filing an appeal and criticized the court for interfering with ICS rate rules. Two ICS vendors, GTL and CenturyLink, have asked to postpone another FCC hearing scheduled for February 6, 2017 in Washington. As of January 19, 2017, the DC Circuit still refused to suspend the FCC's challenge to reform inmate calling rates. Commissioners Ajit Pai, Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel were on the committee in August 2013 when the reform report was passed, but dissented in 2013 and are likely to be sought out for GTL and CenturyLink.

Both Rosenworcel and Pai were nominated to serve on the Federal Communications Commission after the Trump administration began. In his first week as chairman, Pai began rolling back or announcing his intention to roll back some of the pro-consumer policies (such as net neutrality) that the FCC implemented during the Obama administration. As a result, Pai instructed the FCC's attorneys to stop defending the commission's actions in court. On June 13, 2017, an appeals court ruled in favor of Global Tel Link, arguing that the FCC's attempt to regulate the pricing of in-state prison telephones exceeded its authority under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which prohibits the FCC from regulating intra-state communications.

In June 2019, Senator Tammy Duckworth introduced the Martha Wright-Reed Fair and Reasonable Communications Act, which would again authorize the FCC to regulate prison calls and limit call rates in state and local prisons.

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