Skip navigation

PLN's public records suit against MS DOC and Global-Tel cited in editorial

Clarion Ledger, Jan. 1, 2009.
PLN's public records suit against MS DOC and Global-Tel cited in editorial - Clarion Ledger 2009

March 19, 2009

Phone firm has captive market in Mississippi prison system

Charlie Mitchell / The Vicksburg Post

Next time you see a loaded school bus, ponder this: Statistically, one of the passengers will be in a Mississippi prison in a couple of years.

But fear not, there's good news. For one thing, Louisiana's numbers are worse. For another, more inmates means more inmate phone calls - and, if new allegations are correct, Mississippi leads all states in profiting from that aspect of the corrections industry.

A 25-year growth study by The Pew Center reports Louisiana gets top honors in the percentage category, with 1 of every 55 residents of our neighbor state doing time, a 272 percent increase since 1982.

For Mississippi, the number is 1 of every 69 residents in prison or jail. That's a 256 percent increase since 1982. Georgia is close behind at 1 of 70; Texas is at 1 of 71; Alabama at 1 of 75; and Florida at 1 of 82.

It's a national trend. Judges in America have now placed 3 million people - equal to the entire population of Mississippi - under guard.

There are signs the rate of growth is slowing.

Regarding the telephones, some stinky deals may be revealed through a suit filed last week in Hinds County Chancery Court. The plaintiff is a magazine, Prison Legal News, and the defendant is the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

Being sought are copies of contracts with the prison telephone service provider, identified as Global Tel-Link of Mobile.

According to the suit, the magazine was preparing an article on phone contracts state prisons have with vendors of long-distance services. Ron Fraser of the DKT Liberty Project, a Washington, D.C.-based civil liberties organization, wrote that Mississippi officials were the only officials in the nation to decline to provide information. Under state law, the contract is a public record, but MDOC has reportedly responded that Global obtained a pre-emptive protective order requiring MDOC to keep the contract secret.

Fraser indicates there's a pretty good reason why. He suspects the company isn't particularly proud of its provisions.

"Pay for display" is not new in American commerce. Schools and universities have exclusivity contracts with sellers of wares such as soft drinks. So do restaurants. There are discounts or rebates

Courts and rehabilitation experts now agree that the more contact a person on the inside has with those, especially family, on the outside, the better for the inmate and the less likely the inmate will become thoroughly antisocial. That has given rise to day rooms with banks of telephones from which collect calls to approved numbers can be placed by inmates.

And that has given rise to contracts with phone-service providers that contain exclusivity rewards or rebates to owners of private prisons or to the state treasury. Another word for rebate, though less polite, is kickback.

The Michigan-based Campaign to Promote Equitable Telephone Charges alleges - the real figure would be in the contract - that in-state families and friends of inmates in Mississippi are being charged 32 cents per minute. For collect calls to places outside the state, the rate is believed to be 88 cents per minute.

That compares to an average interstate rate of 6 cents per minute in the free world, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Also, by law, inmates in Mississippi are barred from using debit or calling cards. Mississippi prisoners have to place calls through Global Tel-Link and the charge is four or five times greater than any other prison in America and 10 or more times greater than prevailing commercial rates..

The magazine is represented by Jackson attorney Robert McDuff.

If he can get access to the state contract and records, the information Mississippi and Global are hiding might well shame us all. Legal. But shameful.