from the amoral-majority dept
For many, many years interstate inmate calling service (ICS) companies have charged inmates and their families upwards of $14 per minute for phone calls. Because these folks are in prison, and as we all know everybody in prison is guilty, drumming up sympathy to convert into political momentum had proven difficult. But after decades of activism the FCC intervened last year, voting to cap the amount companies can charge the incarcerated. According to the FCC’s updated rules, ICS companies can no longer charge more than twenty-two cents per minute — depending on the size of the prison. Caps were also placed on the fees companies could charge those trying to pay these already bloated bills.
The companies profiting off of ripping off the incarcerated have unsurprisingly been fighting the FCC’s proposal tooth and nail in the courts. Global Tel*Link (GTL) and Securus Technologies managed to win a partial stay earlier this month (pdf) that put the FCC’s per minute price caps on hold until a lawsuit against the FCC is decided. FCC lawyers have argued (pdf) the stay still lets them apply older (2013) interim price caps on interstate calls to intrastate calls until the case is settled.
In response, Securus Technologies CEO Richard Smith filed an emergency motion in federal appeals court last week (pdf) in which he tried to basically claim that if the FCC moves to prevent inmates from getting ripped off, prisoners will riot:
“This chaos and confusion about what is the correct intrastate calling rate—and the only answer is that there is no federally mandated intrastate calling rate after the Court’s March 7 Order which stayed all new rates—will carry over into correctional facilities themselves. Inmates will be angry if they believe that Securus is charging the wrong rates. There could be damage to Securus phones and equipment, as well as a threat to overall security and corrections personnel including inmates within the facilities. Having been in this industry for eight years, I have experience with jail unrest and I know that issues with the phones can trigger it.”
In other words, if inmates that have been ripped off for decades suddenly believe they’ll be facing lower rates — and Securus keeps charging the higher rates — they’ll riot. While it’s incredibly sweet of the company to be so concerned with prisoner safety, it’s odd that Securus wasn’t all that concerned with inmates rioting earlier, given these companies have been charging Mercedes prices for what’s arguably a Yugo-grade product for the better part of a generation.
Keep in mind that voice services these days cost very little to actually provide. Also keep in mind that Securus and other such companies are part of a dangerously cozy and captive market, where prisons get paid upwards of $460 million annually in “concession fees” (read: kickbacks) to score exclusive, lucrative prison contracts. As a result, the service pricing and quality are just about what you’d expect. And as a hack of Securus late last year revealed, these contracts appear to involve helping government record potentially privileged attorney client conversations (Securus just settled a 2014 Texas case claiming precisely this).
So again, ripping off consumers for years? Ok. Working in concert with government to record privileged communications? Fine. Croynistic, monopoly control over a (literally) captive audience resulting in abysmal service? Sure! Trying to prevent inmate families from having to take out a second mortgage to speak to their loved ones? Inevitable riots, safety first!