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HRDC FCC comment on jail phone rates and cost recovery - July 2015

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Human Rights Defense Center

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

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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
National Sheriffs’ Association Written Ex Parte Communication, WC Docket No. 12-375, July 14, 2015

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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.


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.

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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.

Darrell Baker, Notice of Ex Parte Presentation, WC Docket No. 12-375, dated July 12, 2015
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
King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention – Detention and Alternatives Report – June 2015
Cost calculated 7/10/15 using:
Cost calculated 7/10/15 using:

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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.

Cost calculated 7/10/15 using:
HRDC opposes flat ICS rates
Cost calculated 7/10/15 using:

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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
South Carolina

Intrastate Call


Flat Rate
Flat Rate

Flat Rate
$0.50 + $0.05/min.

Call Type(s)

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

National Sheriffs’ Association, Written Ex Parte Communication, WC Docket No. 12-375, July 14, 2015

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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

To our knowledge, only the Arizona DOC charges prisoners’ families a one-time fee of $25 for a background
check for in-person visitation

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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.

National Sheriffs’ Association, Written Ex Parte Communication, WC Docket No. 12-375, June 12, 2015

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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

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 and
Rhode Island’s unified prison/jail system, which has abolished ICS commissions, charges a $.70 flat ICS rate

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.


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.

Paul Wright
Executive Director, HRDC


See the chart on page 6 of this comment

Attachment A

Attachment B