HRDC FCC comment on jail phone rates and cost recovery - July 2015
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Human Rights Defense Center DEDICATED TO PROTECTING HUMAN RIGHTS July 29, 2015 The Honorable Tom Wheeler, Chairman Federal Communications Commission 445 12th St. S.W. Washington, D.C. 20554 Re: Comment for WC Docket 12-375 Dear Chairman Wheeler: The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) respectfully submits this comment for WC Docket No. 12-375 to address the arbitrary, incomplete and inconsistent filings entered on this Docket concerning Inmate Calling Service (ICS) rates at local jails, the costs incurred by jails to provide telephone services for detainees and various proposals for “cost recovery” fees. The Commission is being asked to consider these issues as a result of hundreds of filings by the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), its member sheriffs, some ICS providers and Alabama PSC Commissioner Darrell Baker in his individual capacity. It is HRDC’s position that the proposed rate caps for ICS at jails are too high, and that while jails and prisons may incur certain costs for the provision of phone services for prisoners, such incidental costs are part of their overall operational expenses and should not be borne by prisoners’ families. Thus, we disagree that any rate caps should include additional “cost recovery” fees – moreso given the inability of sheriffs to provide an itemized breakdown of exactly what those costs are. We need travel no further than the 125 miles between the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois and the Champaign County Jail in Urbana, Illinois to disprove the long-standing argument being made on this Docket by law enforcement agencies and some ICS providers regarding the need for a tiered ICS rate structure based on jail size or population. ______________________________________________________________________________ P.O. Box 1151 Lake Worth, FL 33460 Phone: 561.360.2523 Fax: 866.735.7136 firstname.lastname@example.org Page | 2 The Cook County Jail, with an average daily population of 9,000,1 contracts with Securus for ICS and currently charges $0.175/min. for local and intrastate calls with no surcharge. That rate may go up or down by $0.01/min. based on an increase or decrease in annual gross ICS revenue. See Attachment A at 2. The Champaign County Jail, with a reported capacity of 182 beds,2 contracts with ICSolutions and the rate for ICS calls is $0.17/min. under the terms of its current contract. See Attachment B at 11. The two jails, separated by 125 miles, and with one housing 8,800 more prisoners than the other, both charge less than the rate caps under the tiered structure proposed by Pay-Tel and Mr. Baker, with the smaller jail charging a lower rate. According to the filings by ICS providers, the NSA and many of its members, that simply isn’t possible – yet it is the current reality. The NSA proposes a Jail Per Minute Compensation rate to be “added to the inmate calling service rate established by the FCC for ICS Providers to provide cost recovery fee for sheriffs’ offices.” The NSA recommends a rate add-on for calls made from facilities with 1 to 349 beds of $0.08/min., for jails with 350-2,499 beds a per-minute compensation rate of $0.05, and for jails with over 2,499 beds the NSA suggests an add-on of $0.02/min.3 In the case of the Champaign County Jail, the NSA’s proposed “add-on” equals around 47% of the total per-minute rate being charged for ICS calls – which hardly sounds fair or reasonable. In a revised filing on this Docket dated July 12, 2015, Mr. Baker proposes a $0.04/min. facility cost recovery fee for all jails. He also proposes a tiered rate structure for the “provider proportion of jail rates,” recommending ICS rate caps of $0.21/min. for jails up to 999 ADP and $0.18/min. for jails with ADP over 1,000. The aggregate rate caps proposed by Mr. Baker are $0.25/min. for jails with ADP up to 999 and $0.22/min. for facilities with ADP over 1,000. In a July 13, 2015 filing on this Docket, Pay-Tel proposes a rate cap of $0.08/min. for prisons and a tiered rate structure for jails based on ADP: $0.22/min. for jails with less than 350 ADP, $0.20/min. for jails with ADP of 350-999, $0.18/min. for jails with ADP of 1,000-2,499 and $0.16/min. for jails with ADP of 2,500+. Pay-Tel further proposes a Facility Administrative Support (FAS) fee for cost recovery at the follow tiers: $0.07/min. for jails with ADP under 350, $0.05/min. for jails with ADP of 350-2,499, $0.03/min. for jails with ADP of 2,500+ and $0.02/min. for prisons. Thus, Pay-Tel’s proposed aggregate rate caps would be $0.10/min. for prisons, $0.29/min. for jails with under 350 ADP, $0.25/min. for jails with ADP of 350-999, $0.23/min. for jails with ADP of 1,000-2,499 and $0.19/min. for jails with ADP of 2,500+. While Pay-Tel and Mr. Baker disagree somewhat on the details of their competing proposed rate plans, both seek a tiered structure based on facility size – although the tiered structure component of Mr. Baker’s revised filing applies only to providers. The NSA’s tiered cost recovery proposal applies only to jails, while Pay-Tel’s tiered rate caps and FAS rates apply to both. Even the nation’s largest ICS provider, Global Tel*Link (GTL), casts doubt on the practice of basing ICS rates on facility size. In a July 15, 2015 filing, GTL’s attorneys stated: “In its most 1 www.cookcountysheriff.com/doc/doc_main.html www1.co.champaign.il.us/SHERIFF/JailInspectionReports/2014_IDOC_Inspection_Report.pdf 3 National Sheriffs’ Association Written Ex Parte Communication, WC Docket No. 12-375, July 14, 2015 2 Page | 3 recent filing, NSA attempts to support its notion that smaller facilities incur higher costs per minute, but these figures are very similar to those previously analyzed by Economists Inc. As discussed there, the NSA proposal yields annual compensation that is significantly larger than that of the estimates of Economists Inc. and Andrew P. Lipman. In some cases, the maximum NSA proposed rates for jails would yield compensation in excess of 2014 site commission levels.” Securus also questions basing ICS rates on facility size in its July 27, 2015 filing on the Docket, stating, “rate caps should not be built on the false ‘jails vs. prisons’ dichotomy.”4 Indeed, the above example of the Cook County and Champaign County jails calls into serious question the propriety of a tiered rate structure based on facility size or ADP – particularly at the levels suggested by Pay-Tel and Mr. Baker – as well as the tiered cost recovery proposed by the NSA. The Cook County Jail, with a population of around 9,000, charges slightly more than the Champaign County Jail, which has under 200 beds. According to Pay-Tel and Mr. Baker, logic and their data would dictate that smaller jails must charge higher ICS rates than larger jails, yet that is not the case here. Further, both the Cook and Champaign County jails charge ICS rates well below the caps proposed by Pay-Tel and Mr. Baker. The contrast in commission kickbacks between the jails in Cook County and Champaign County is striking and also worth noting. The Cook County Jail receives a 47.6% kickback totaling $2.4 million annually based on its January 12, 2015 filing on this Docket. The jail touts its policy of revenue neutrality with respect to its ICS contract, noting that the full $2.4 million matches the annual cost of providing ICS to prisoners.5 As discussed later in this comment, the expense incurred by corrections agencies to provide phone services is nothing more than a cost of doing business and part of their routine operations. This cost rightfully belongs on the shoulders of all taxpayers and should not be exclusively borne by prisoners and their families. More striking than the pride Cook County takes in achieving its goal of ICS revenue neutrality by making some of the poorest consumers in the county pay for ICS at the jail is the fact that the Champaign County Jail (the much smaller jail with lower phone rates) receives no commission from ICS revenue. Once again, this reflects the connection between eliminating commission kickbacks and lower ICS phone rates. What more needs to be said about how critical it is that comprehensive ICS reform be about rates that are fair, just and reasonable? There is nothing about the current ICS industry that meets the definition of any of those terms. It is also worth noting that the ICS kickbacks received by the Cook County Jail are negligible when compared to the jail’s annual budget. The Cook County Jail reported expenditures of just under $342 million in 2014.6 The $2.4 million in annual ICS commissions represents less than 1% (.007) of the jail’s annual budget, and while still a significant amount of money, the financial implication of less than 1% of the budgetary costs of a government agency is much less than it is to impoverished families that are required to make decisions about whether to pay high ICS rates or pay their rent, medical bills or other personal expenses. 4 Ex Parte Submission of Securus Technologies, Inc., WC Docket No. 12-375, July 27, 2015 at 8 The jail’s current ICS rates include a 47.6% commission; i.e., the $.175/min. rate includes over $.08/min. attributable to commissions. Absent any commission, the rate could be as low as $.0917/min. 6 www.cookcountyil.gov/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/FY2014-15-Appropriations-and-Expenditures-FINAL.pdf 5 Page | 4 The two jails in Illinois are not the only countervailing example with respect to the lack of justification for tiered jail ICS rates. The Dakota County Jail in Hastings, Minnesota had 252 prisoners listed on its roster on July 10, 2015.7 The jail contracts with Consolidated Telecom for ICS and charges prisoners and their families $0.18/min. with no connection fee. How can this be possible? Given the tiered rates proposed by Pay-Tel and Mr. Baker, ICS providers cannot provide such low rates at a jail that size – and yet Consolidated Telecom does. Recent filings on this Docket by Mr. Baker may provide some clues.8 The ICS providers as well as the NSA and its member sheriffs have stated time and time again that not only do jails incur costs providing ICS to prisoners,9 but that those costs are directly related to facility size, with smaller facilities incurring significantly higher costs. Mr. Baker’s revised filing appears to debunk this myth. Not only does he revise his recommendation for cost recovery by proposing one rate for “jails of all sizes,” he also notes that with respect to prisons, “The cost per MOU [minutes of use] is lowest for the smallest facilities (up to 4,999 ADP), increases for the medium sized facilities, then decreases marginally for the largest sized facilities.” (Emphasis added). The Illinois jail examples and Mr. Baker’s revised submission rebut the arguments on the Docket for a tiered rate structure based on facility size, and the Dakota County Jail further demonstrates that lower ICS rates are in fact possible in smaller facilities. A pattern of ICS providers and correctional facilities establishing arbitrary rates also exists in like-size jails across the country. In Washington State, the King County Jail, with a 2015 ADP of 2,029 prisoners in two facilities,10 contracts with Securus for ICS. The rate for phone calls is $0.13/min. with no surcharge, which was confirmed using the Securus Rate Calculator: a 15minute intrastate call from the King County Jail costs $1.95.11 The same intrastate phone call also made through Securus from the Pierce County Jail in Tacoma, 33 miles south of Seattle, costs $4.24 ($2.74 connection charge + $0.10/min.).12 The Pierce County Jail has 1,700 beds.13 This is another example of how the arguments being made by ICS providers, the NSA and individual sheriffs have no merit. The King County and Pierce County facilities are similar in size and located in major metropolitan areas. According to the myriad of charts entered on this Docket, both fall into the same tiered rate category based on population level and, for that reason, incur the same level of mysterious “costs” we keep hearing about. Yet a 15-minute call from the Pierce County Jail costs 117% more than the same call from the King County Jail, with the same ICS provider. Plus, notably, the phone rates of $0.13/min. at the King County Jail are well below the rate caps proposed by Pay-Tel and Mr. Baker for a facility of its size. 7 www.co.dakota.mn.us/LawJustice/Jail/Pages/inmate-search.aspx Darrell Baker, Notice of Ex Parte Presentation, WC Docket No. 12-375, dated July 12, 2015 9 Actual costs continue to be largely undocumented on the public record. Given the dearth of information on this topic it may be appropriate for the FCC to subpoena such information from ICS providers and jails before it makes a finding as to any validity of this issue, given the lack of information in the public record and the fact that the information is exclusively in the hands of ICS providers and jail and prison officials 10 King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention – Detention and Alternatives Report – June 2015 11 Cost calculated 7/10/15 using: https://securustech.net/call-rate-calculator 12 Cost calculated 7/10/15 using: https://securustech.net/call-rate-calculator 13 www.co.pierce.wa.us/?nid=1932 8 Page | 5 As with Cook County, ICS revenues are also miniscule when compared to the annual budgets for King County and Pierce County. The Minimum Annual Guaranty (MAG) of $750,000 that the King County Jail receives from Securus represented one-half of one percent of the annual budget for the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention in 2014.14 In 2012, the Pierce County Jail received just under $737,000 in commission payments from Securus, or 1.4% of its 2012 budget of $51.4 million.15 Likewise, the Denton County Jail in Denton, Texas is a 1,400-bed facility.16 The Bell County Jail in Belton, Texas (approximately 170 miles from Denton County) has 1,367 beds. Id. Both facilities contract with Securus for ICS services. Prisoners in the Denton County Jail and their families pay a $2.50 flat fee for a 15-minute intrastate call,17 which results in a per-minute rate of $0.167 if the call duration is actually 15 minutes.18 However, prisoners in the Bell County Jail pay $8.10 for the same 15-minute intrastate call ($3.60 + $0.30/min.).19 Again, this illustrates the arbitrary nature of jail ICS rates, which evidently do not correlate with facility size. HRDC has maintained the position throughout this proceeding that the claims of higher costs for jails made by ICS providers and the NSA don’t make any sense except when analyzed with the goal of maximizing profit for the ICS providers and kickbacks for the prison and jail operators. Smaller facilities don’t have as many phones or prisoners, as Mr. Baker confirmed in his revised entry on the Docket dated July 12, 2015. Filings by GTL on July 15, 2015 and CenturyLink on July 22, 2015 also indicate that facility size is not a factor to be considered in the calculation of ICS costs. Moreover, none of the jails appear to be actively trying to reduce ICS costs, only to preserve the status quo – primarily their commission kickback revenue. ICS providers and jail officials view each prisoner telephone as a money-making machine and want to generate as much revenue as possible from each phone, hence their desire for additional fees that have nothing to do with the actual cost of calls or provision of ICS services. A good example is the Montgomery County Jail in Clarksville, Tennessee – a 750-bed facility. This jail contracts with GTL and only offers collect phone calls at a flat rate of $1.50 for a 15minute call.20 The $0.25/min. rate cap proposed by Mr. Baker for a facility of this size is 2.5 times the actual rate being charged, and his $0.04/min. proposed cost recovery fee is 40% of the ICS rate currently charged at the jail. According to CenturyLink, the $0.10/min. effective rate at the Montgomery County Jail, which has only 750 prisoners, is not high enough to support ICS even at the state prison level. This is another specific example of the arbitrary information and data being filed on this Docket with respect to the actual costs of ICS at prisons and local jails. Certainly, if GTL could not make a profit by providing ICS at the Montgomery County Jail at effective rates of $0.10/min., then it would not have contracted to do so. 14 www.kingcounty.gov/exec/PSB/Budget/2014Budget.aspx www.co.pierce.wa.us/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/337 16 www.tcjs.state.tx.us/docs/AbbreviatedPopReports/Abbreviated%20Pop%20Rpt%20Feb%202015.pdf 17 Cost calculated 7/10/15 using: https://securustech.net/call-rate-calculator 18 HRDC opposes flat ICS rates 19 Cost calculated 7/10/15 using: https://securustech.net/call-rate-calculator 20 www.mcgtn.org/sites/default/files/sheriff/FREQUENTLY%20ASKED%20QUESTIONS%20pdf.pdf 15 Page | 6 CenturyLink dispels the notion that ICS rates should be based on facility size in its July 22, 2015 filing on this Docket, in which it calls for a “simple, unified rate cap for prepaid or collect calls.” CenturyLink goes so far as to say that “the costs to serve jails and prisons are actually similar,” attributing this to a much higher call volume per inmate at jails even though they have higher turnover, and higher security costs at prisons. While we appreciate CenturyLink’s realistic assessment, we cannot support its position that prison rate caps must exceed $0.08/min. plus a $0.02/min. cost recovery fee. In fact, we could not disagree more and point to ICS rates in ten state prison systems in the U.S. – fully 20% of the state DOCs – that are currently under $0.10/min. for intrastate calls:21 State DOC West Virginia New Mexico Rhode Island New Hampshire New York Missouri Ohio South Carolina Pennsylvania Nebraska 15-Minute Intrastate Call $0.48 $0.59 $0.63 $0.68 $0.72 $0.75 $0.75 $0.75 $0.89 $1.25 Effective Rate $0.032/min. $0.039/min. $0.042/min. $0.045/min. $0.048/min. $0.05/min. $0.05/min. $0.05/min. $0.059/min. $0.083/min. Details Flat Rate Flat Rate Flat Rate $0.50 + $0.05/min. Call Type(s) All Prepaid Debit Prepaid/Debit All Prepaid/Debit All Prepaid/Debit All Prepaid/Debit After the Commission’s historic 2013 order regulating interstate ICS rates so families could afford to stay in touch during times of incarceration, the fight began to retain as much revenue from intrastate calls as possible – a fight only being waged by ICS providers and corrections officials, as they stand to benefit the most from the existing industry model of commission kickbacks and high ICS rates. Indeed, they stand to lose millions of dollars generated from prisoners and their families who simply want to communicate with each other. The expense incurred by prisons and jails to provide phone services is nothing more than a cost of doing business. Corrections officials are seeking to externalize those costs by foisting them onto the backs of prisoners and their families rather than the general taxpayer base that supports public services, including correctional facilities. The NSA describes these costs as “security and administrative duties necessary to allow ICS in jails.”22 However, there are also security and administrative duties necessary to process prisoner mail and conduct in-person visitation, among numerous other aspects of running a correctional facility, and all of those expenses are costs of incarceration borne by the government. The only reason prisons and jails are able to profit from ICS is because they demand commission kickbacks from ICS providers in exchange for monopoly contracts. Families are not charged for each piece of mail they send to a prisoner, and with a single exception visitors are not charged for in-person 21 22 www.prisonphonejustice.org National Sheriffs’ Association, Written Ex Parte Communication, WC Docket No. 12-375, July 14, 2015 Page | 7 visitation.23 Prisons and jails should not be allowed to recoup the costs of providing ICS from prisoners’ families any more than they should be allowed to recoup the costs of processing mail or conducting visits – or for any other costs incurred in running a correctional facility for that matter, such as for food services, medical care, staffing, etc. For decades, corrections officials have done an end run around the democratic process by demanding and obtaining millions of dollars from ICS providers with no political oversight. The prison and jail population has increased over 500% in the past 40 years, and detention facility budgets have increased accordingly. We can note that prior to commission kickbacks becoming the established way of doing ICS business in the late 1980s, nearly all prisons and jails in the United States (the Texas prison system being a notable exception) provided phone services to prisoners at a fraction of the costs being charged now. In short, HRDC fully acknowledges that prisons and jails incur nominal and minimal costs for providing prisoners with access to phone services. The question is who should pay those costs. Our position is that such costs should not be borne by prisoners and their family members, but rather by the corrections agency that runs the prison or jail through its budget that is funded by all taxpayers. While much ink has been spilled on this Docket regarding “cost recovery” fees for prisons and jails, attempting to ascertain how much, on a per-minute basis, should be charged to defray the costs of providing ICS, this ignores the larger issue of why prisoners and their families should have to pay such recovery costs in the first place – again, using the above examples of prisoners and their families not paying for the costs of processing mail or in-person visitation, etc. Many of us of do not have school-age children yet everyone pays taxes to fund schools. Similarly, all taxpayers should fund the cost of operating correctional facilities, including the cost of providing ICS services. Prisoners and their families already pay more than their fair share through inflated phone rates; they should not also be stuck with unspecified, unjustified “cost recovery” fees. The NSA also notes that “jails contain people who have been arrested but not convicted,” and adds that “this leads to an increase in the administrative duties and costs experienced by jails for duties such as answering questions from new inmates and the people with whom they communicate about the ICS system....” (fn. 3 at 2). These reflect the administrative costs of dealing with pretrial detainees and their families, and do not encompass any actual costs of providing ICS (i.e. telecom costs, hardware, software, etc.). HRDC notes that the NSA and ICS providers are at odds on the record as to whether it is the telecoms or jails that perform security duties, presumably to bolster their respective positions that each should be able to recoup their costs for performing those services. (fn. 3 at 3). HRDC’s position is that regardless of who performs those duties, prisoners and their families should not pay the cost. Moreover, if the ICS providers and their government partners cannot agree on who actually performs these functions it follows that neither should be able to bill for the other’s duties. To our knowledge, ICS providers have never complained about the number of phone accounts they have to open at jails as compared to prisons, most likely because of the enormous profits they have garnered from the ancillary fees associated with funding ICS accounts. Now that they 23 To our knowledge, only the Arizona DOC charges prisoners’ families a one-time fee of $25 for a background check for in-person visitation Page | 8 are faced with the very real possibility of losing the exorbitant and unnecessary fees they have been charging prisoners and their families for the past decade, they are seeking ways to preserve that revenue. This isn’t about revolving jail populations or “churn”; rather, it’s about possibly losing a revenue stream and coming up with arbitrary reasons to inflate ICS rates so as to retain profits. Once again we note that the whole rubric of charging consumers ancillary fees was only conjured up by ICS providers in the past decade as they sought to expand their revenue stream when faced with higher commissions demanded by greedy corrections officials. A decade ago ICS providers justified their exorbitant rates by complaining of unpaid phone bills. They have resolved this issue by establishing prepaid ICS accounts. Having eliminated toll fraud and unpaid phone bills, they now seek to justify their high rates by the nominal expense of the measures they created to ensure 100% payment of their monopoly services, and seek to further monetize the very act of paying a phone bill – something that is not done outside the ICS market to non-prison and jail consumers. One option the Commission has at its disposal, which HRDC would welcome and which would end much of this discussion, empower consumers and introduce true competition into the ICS market, is to require correctional facilities to give consumers who place and receive calls from prisons and jails a choice in the carrier and telecom service they use. So long as ICS providers view their “customers” as the corrections agencies that control access to a captive, monetized population, and not the consumers who actually pay the bills, the discussion will continue to revolve around ways to gouge consumers and extract money from them – not on how to deliver the best, most cost-efficient ICS services to prisoners and their families. We note that among the thousands of pages of documents filed on this Docket by ICS providers and sheriffs, not a single one has suggested that if the agencies were to bid ICS contracts on the basis of who can provide the best service at the lowest cost to the consumers actually paying the bills, the public interest would be better served. Instead, it is a crass money grab. The “Per Minute Compensation” rates sought by the NSA are yet another example of arbitrary ICS fees and costs being proposed in this matter to perpetuate the unjust and exploitive status quo. In a filing dated June 12, 2015,24 the NSA proposed “cost recovery” rates of $0.01-$0.02/min. for jails with more than 2,500 prisoners; $0.05-$0.08/min. for jails with populations of 350-2,499 and $0.09-$0.11/min. for jails with less than 350 prisoners. The NSA Cost Survey was cited as the basis for this recommendation. Id. In a more recent filing, the NSA is now using DOJ statistics to propose slightly lower cost recovery rates: $0.02/min. for jails with over 2,500 prisoners; $.05/min. for jails with 350-2,499 prisoners; and $0.08/min. for jails with less than 350 prisoners. (fn. 3 at 3). While the NSA is going in the right downward direction, the lower rates come with what has become a standard threat to reduce or eliminate access to ICS services if sheriffs are not allowed to continue receiving commission kickbacks. Also, the shifting numbers for the cost recovery rates proposed by both the NSA and Mr. Baker indicate the arbitrary nature of such rates. The NSA further argues that county governments and sheriffs “do not have the economies of scope and scale of state or federal prisons.” (fn. 3 at 2). This is not true based on earlier data in this comment and a look at larger jails versus small prison systems. Notably, some of the larger jails have populations greater than entire state prison systems. 24 National Sheriffs’ Association, Written Ex Parte Communication, WC Docket No. 12-375, June 12, 2015 Page | 9 As stated above, the Cook County Jail with a population of 9,000 charges $0.175/min. for intrastate ICS calls. The Los Angeles County jail system, with a population of around 16,840,25 charges $3.50 for a 15-minute intrastate call, or the equivalent of $0.23/min.26 Both jail rates are lower than the ICS rates charged by the state prison systems in Alaska, Maine, North Dakota and Wyoming, even though those DOCs have smaller populations. Alaska, with a prison population of 5,081, charges $0.25/min. for intrastate calls; the Maine DOC, with a population of 2,173, also charges $0.25/min.; the North Dakota DOC has a population of 1,153 and charges $0.404/min.; and Wyoming, with a prison population of 2,310, charges $0.248/min. 27 This aptly demonstrates that large jails can share the same economies of scale as prison systems, that differentiating between ICS rates at large jails and small DOCs makes little sense, and again illustrates the arbitrary nature of the higher jail rates and tiered rate structure proposed by PayTel and Mr. Baker. Indeed, the effective ICS rate of $0.10/min. at the 750-bed Montgomery Co. Jail in Tennessee, mentioned above, is lower than the rates in 40 state prison systems!28 Further, it should also be noted that unlike large jails such as in Cook County and Los Angeles County, DOC populations are typically spread across many small rural facilities. For example, the Vermont prison system houses roughly 1,500 prisoners scattered among seven in-state prisons, none housing more than 370 prisoners and several holding considerably fewer. Six states, including Connecticut, Rhode Island, Alaska and Delaware, have unified prison and jail systems, where prisons house both detainees awaiting trial and convicted offenders.29 Yet ICS providers have no apparent problem providing services at small prisons or in unified systems, indicating there is little real difference between the provision of ICS in prisons and jails. As noted by Securus, “Not all DOCs are large. Not all jails are small.” (fn. 4 at 9). Many filings on this Docket speak to lower recidivism rates and better transitions back into society for prisoners who are able to stay connected with their families and support networks while incarcerated. This benefits all members of society. The NSA and many of their member sheriffs have indicated they will eliminate ICS if they aren’t allowed to continue receiving lucrative kickbacks from ICS providers. What they don’t discuss, however, is the benefit of ICS to a correctional facility. Telephone calls from prisons and jails are a privilege, and as such can be revoked for disciplinary infractions. That is, they serve as an incentive for good behavior and can be removed or restricted for bad behavior – much like access to televisions. They are, in fact, an important management tool, and most competent professional corrections officials recognize them as such. The ability to speak with family, particularly spouses and children, gives prisoners an incentive to follow the rules, which benefits the facilities where they are housed. Phones in prisons and jails also allow law enforcement and prosecutors to monitor calls for illegal activity by prisoners and others, as well as improper/illegal activities of jail guards and staff (with respect to contraband smuggling, for example). Prisoners’ families should pay nothing 25 Phone call to Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, July 27, 2015: 14,647 male prisoners and 2,194 female prisoners The L.A. County jail’s ICS rate is with a 67.5% commission; i.e., the $.23/min. rate includes over $.15/min. attributable to commissions. Absent any commission, the rate could be as low as $.0747/min. 27 www.prisonphonejustice.org and www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p13.pdf 28 Id. 29 Rhode Island’s unified prison/jail system, which has abolished ICS commissions, charges a $.70 flat ICS rate 26 Page | 10 for “cost recovery” that is associated with law enforcement/prosecutorial monitoring of phone calls – which are costs that are legitimately assigned to law enforcement and public safety. Of course, as stated above, our position is that prisoners and their families should not pay any costs of ICS that are part of the routine administrative expenses of operating correctional facilities. Going back to the 1960s, telephone access for prisoners and detainees has been considered beneficial for society as a whole, and thus has been readily provided. The consensus among corrections professionals is that prisoners should have telephone access. The Commission can note that no prison systems are threatening to eliminate ICS if commissions are abolished; only greedy sheriffs who place profit over public safety are proposing to do so. The Commission cannot mandate that prisons and jails provide telecom services to prisoners, yet that has been the norm for the past 50 years nationally. Until the late 1980s when Evercom invented the kickback model of giving money to corrections officials in exchange for monopoly contracts, telephone services for prisoners and their families were cheap, high quality and affordable. There were no ancillary fees until the past decade. The Commission must ensure that ICS rates are fair, just and reasonable. If sheriffs, most of whom are elected officials, decide to eliminate telephone access for prisoners if they lose their kickbacks, we expect that to be a short-lived experiment in cruelty and retaliation. Financially exploiting prisoners and their families is not and has never been a legitimate penological objective. A number of comments have requested that the Commission phase in any rate reductions or kickback eliminations over a period of years. We reiterate our opposition to those proposals and request that whatever action the Commission takes be implemented promptly and no later than 60 days after its order is issued. As the entries on this Docket make clear, every prison and jail administrator responsible for an agency budget knows at this point that the Commission is contemplating action with respect to ICS rates and commissions. Agencies routinely deal with budget shortfalls and, as noted above, ICS kickbacks constitute a miniscule percentage of agency budgets. If corrections officials are not skilled enough to manage their budgets then they can do what every other public official facing a budget shortfall due to poor planning or unforeseen circumstances must do: go to the legislature or county commission and ask for more money. Which is exactly what they should have been doing for the past three decades rather than padding their budgets with kickback money generated from prisoners and their family members. Any delay in implementing additional ICS reforms will merely perpetuate the injustice and exploitation that prisoners and their families have endured for the past 30 years at the hands of ICS providers and corrections officials. And delays will continue to provide the massive profits that Securus and other ICS providers tell investors are at record highs.30 The issue of ICS reform has languished on this Docket for well over a decade. If reform has finally come then it should come swiftly; prisoners and their families have waited long enough for justice. Justice delayed is justice denied. Therefore, we urge the Commission to require the implementation of ICS reforms within 60 days of its next order. ICS providers and government agencies are fully capable of responding quickly to legal and regulatory changes, as demonstrated by their response to the 2013 order capping interstate ICS rates and banning interstate commission cost recovery. 30 Human Rights Defense Center, Comment filed on the WC Docket No. 12-375, June 25, 2015 Page | 11 In conclusion, HRDC opposes a tiered ICS rate structure based on facility size, which would be an arbitrary approach that is contradicted by the real-world examples cited in this comment. We also oppose any “cost recovery” fees for correctional agencies, as any costs associated with the provision of ICS by prisons and jails are part of their routine operational expenses that should be borne by all taxpayers, not just prisoners and their families. Lastly, we reiterate our position that ICS rates should be capped at $.05/min. for all types of calls, and note that at least 8 state DOCs already charge ICS rates at or below that level.31 We further call on the Commission to abolish ICS ancillary fees, which serve as another unjustified way to price gouge prisoners and their families; unless the issue of fees is addressed, any rate caps will be easily circumvented. The above changes should go into effect within 60 days of the FCC’s order being issued. Please feel free to contact me should you require any additional information. Sincerely, Paul Wright Executive Director, HRDC Attachments 31 See the chart on page 6 of this comment Attachment A Attachment B