(or Making a Fortune off Misfortune)


Most prisons have agreements with long distance providers to handle collect calls from prisoners to family and friends. Calls to prisons are forbidden so inmates are compelled to call out at exhorbitant rates.

Phone companies such as AT&T, MCI and Sprint have struck "sweetheart" deals with state and federal prisons.

This is a multi-billion dollar industry/racket and one of the most blatant examples of prison profiteering.

State and federal agencies customarily solicit outside bids, with low bidder winning the contract. In the case of prison phone providers, the highest bidder wins! But wait, there's a method to their madness ... these high bidders are awarded the contracts with the stipulation that a portion (almost half in most cases) of the collect charges are kicked back to the prison system. The prisons say they need the money to run the prisons... oh? well then, what are they using the taxpayers money for? And while we're on the subject of double dipping. why do inmate families have to send money to inmates for medical treatment, medication, food, cosmetics and clothing? To hear the prisons tell it, the taxpayers foot the bill for these necessities.

Artificially inflated phone bills are yet another compulsory market to jump on for prison profiteers. A cruel and unusual prison phone scam/punishment inflicted on the families and friends of prisoners. To impose this heavy financial burden on those who want to maintain spoken contact with their loved ones is nothing less than extortion.

This unethical kickback scheme not only serves to further impoverish people but sometimes results in less or no spoken contact with inmates. It is unscrupulous when anyone targets the unfortunate for profit but it is particularly unconscionable to run a scam that causes inmates to lose that most tenuous of threads to humanity, contact to the outside, the real world. Prisoner advocates and public utility watchdogs must make this a high priority issue.

For more links to research on this issue go here:

eTc -- The Campaign to Promote Equitable Telephone Charges


PULP: Public Utility Law Project


Beating the High Cost of Inmate Collect Calls


Break the Prison's Collect Call Monopoly


UCAN Prison Phone Project


Federal Communications Commission


Thursday, October 7, 1999

Prison advocates assail phone fees State charges prisoners $3 for each call they place that receiver pays

Associated Press MARQUETTE -- It should not cost an extra $3 to reach out and touch someone from a state prison, one corrections reform group says. Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants says the $3 surcharge the Michigan Department of Corrections collects on each call a prisoner makes unnecessarily limits many inmates' ability to keep in contact with their loved ones.

"We're not excusing what they did to get into prison. That's not what this is about at all," said Barbara Budinger of Marquette, a member of CURE, a national nonprofit prison and jail reform group dedicated to the reduction of crime through reform of the criminal justice system. "It's the families who have to pay these surcharges ... and it's not fair. It adds up to big bucks." All inmate telephone calls to the outside, even local connections, are collect calls, said Kay Perry of Kalamazoo, CURE's state director.

The Department of Corrections collected about $15 million from prisoner telephone calls last fiscal year. Michigan, which started accepting assessments in 1993, is one of several states that levy such charges, according to corrections officials. New York, for example, collects about $25 million each year. In Michigan, the money is funneled into a state reimbursement program that provides funds to house some nonviolent offenders in county jails instead of distant state-operated penitentiaries. CURE's Michigan chapter claims the surcharges isolate some prisoners and contribute to a deterioration of family relationships, she said. Family contact and support are important to reducing inmate recidivism, the group claims. "It takes a lot of courage for prisoners to keep in contact with families," Perry told the Mining Journal of Marquette. "What the corrections department has tried to do over the years is isolate prisoners. I think that's pretty clear."

The Department of Corrections doesn't agree with CURE's contention that closer contact between prisoners and families helps reduce crime, department spokesman Matt Davis said. "It appears that close contact (with families) didn't keep them from going to prison in the first place," he said. Families on the outside "don't have to accept the calls when they come in," Davis said. "They can write to each other."

Using the money for the county jail program helps keep inmates who otherwise would be sent away closer to their families, Davis said. But maintaining close contact makes good sense to Marquette psychologist Scott Matthews, who said keeping strong family ties is "a common sense thing, even a Christian thing." "It seems like we want them to be able to ... function when they get out of prison," Matthews said. "It makes sense that closer contact with families on the outside would help that to happen for inmates." To address the issue, CURE wants prisoners be able to use prepaid calling cards, Budinger said. Also, prisoners should be allowed to call approved toll-free numbers, and in the case of collect calls, there should be no surcharge, she said.


Here's an interesting site that has information about MCI gouging Arkansas inmates.



CCA sued over cost of prison phone calls

By Getahn Ward / Staff Writer (from the Tennessean)

A lawsuit filed against Corrections Corporation of America accuses the Nashville-based prison operator and telephone carriers that handle calls from its prisons of charging "exorbitant" rates. Filed by a prisoners' rights advocacy group on behalf of families who receive collect calls from inmates, the suit specifically cites average connection fees of $3 and charges of 60 cents a minute. It seeks class-action status, monetary damages, a lowering of rates and to block CCA from requiring that inmates use carriers with which it has contracts.

CCA spokesman Susan Hart yesterday said the company doesn't comment on the specifics of pending lawsuits. But she said the phone service rates charged by the company are comparable to other publicly operated prisons. The need for operator's assistance and security monitoring are among factors that increase costs for prison phone calls, Hart said.

Other defendants named in the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Washington, D.C., are carriers AT&T, MCI WorldCom, Evercom, Global Telecommunications Link and Pioneer Telephone. The carriers contract with CCA to handle collect calls made by inmates, who in some cases can use debit cards provided by the companies. Inmates do not receive incoming calls. Options being sought through the lawsuit includes allowing inmates to use dial-around plans and debit cards provided by other companies, said Eric Lotke, executive director of D.C. Prisoners' Legal Services Project, the Washington, D.C.-based group that filed the lawsuit. Similar filings have been made in other states, including Illinois, where a suit was filed last May by affected consumers against telephone carriers and the state's correction department.

Getahn Ward covers public companies for The


Phone Company and NY Cited on Inmate Calls

By Katherine Roth Associated Press Writer

Tuesday, March 21, 2000; 6:10 p.m. EST NEW YORK MCI WorldCom and New York state were sued Tuesday for allegedly conspiring to make huge profits on collect calls inmates make to their families and advisers. Collect calls are the only way the state's 70,000 prisoners can phone the outside world.

The telephone company and the state Department of Correctional Services inflated rates, according to the federal class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of prisoners' families and advisers. It alleges that MCI the phone company that has had a monopoly inside the state's 70 correctional facilities since 1986 charges family members a 60 percent surcharge on calls from their imprisoned loved ones. The majority of these families come from the poorest neighborhoods in New York City and are often unable to pay the inflated rates, the lawsuit alleges.

"They are victimized by the phone company and the prison system," said Ron Daniels, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

In exchange for giving MCI a monopoly in the prisons, the state Department of Correctional Services receives a 60 percent commission from the telephone company, which in fiscal 1998 alone added up to $25 million, and about $68 million since the start of the contract, lawyers for the plaintiffs said. MCI declined to comment.

Jim Flateau, a spokesman for the Department of Correctional Services, said a similar lawsuit filed on Feb. 7 had been dismissed by a federal judge in Manhattan. "Inmates do not have a constitutional right to make phone calls," he said. The entire commission goes back into the correctional system to cover expenses of security devices and staff who monitor prisoners' phone calls to ensure they do not harass victims or run scams, Flateau said.



Jordan wants out of sponsorship business

CHICAGO (AP) _ Michael Jordan is through endorsing products. One of biggest names in advertising says he no longer wants to be a corporate pitchman and has told his sponsors to gradually adopt new campaigns.

``It's a stage you get past,'' he said in today's Chicago Sun-Times. The NBA great, now part owner of the Washington Wizards, has endorsed an array of products: Nike shoes and apparel, MCI telephone service, Hanes underwear and Ballpark Franks.

In 1997, it was estimated he stood to earn $40 million a year in endorsements. ``Now I don't want my name just used,'' Jordan said. ``Endorsements are good for a while _ they give you a personality, a lot of credibility. And now I have that name. But I want to understand the business itself, see the value in something other than just endorsing.''