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Please Deposit All of Your Money: Kickbacks, Rates, and Hidden Fees in the Jail Phone Industry

NCJ Number
Drew Kukorowski; Peter Wagner; Leah Sakala
Date Published
May 2013
33 pages
This report is the first to address in depth the many fees prison phone customers must pay.
The report determined that such fees have a significant impact on prison phone bills, composing 38 percent of the $1 billion annual price of inmates calling home. Fees are charged for accepting customers' money (up to $10 for each deposit); holding on to customers' money (monthly account fees as high as $12); and closing customers' accounts (refund fees of up to $10). Many other charges are less transparent; for example, some companies operate "single call programs" that charge customers who do not have pre-existing accounts up to $14.99 to receive a single call from a prison or jail. Some companies have hidden profit-sharing agreements with payment processors such as Western Union. These are not disclosed to the correctional systems that award contracts. Other companies give their fees labels that suggest they are government-mandated even though they are retained by the company. Given this documented financial exploitation of calls that come from or to prison inmates, this report recommends that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) impose reasonable rate and fee caps on all prison and jail telephone calls; ban commission payments in all prison and jail telephone contracts; ban all illegitimate fees in the prison and jail phone industry; and audit legitimate fee collection by prison phone companies so as to ensure compliance with FCC policy. Further, the report recommends that State and local contracting authorities act on their own to address the high cost of phone calls from jails and prisons. Suggestions are offered for actions that could be taken by county sheriffs, county contracting authorities, and other State prison systems. 54 tables and appended questions for sheriffs and contracting authorities to ask of bidders for phone contracts