Georgia cashes in on “predatory” inmate phone fees

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An inmate makes a phone call in the Gwinnett County Jail. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM
An inmate makes a phone call in the Gwinnett County Jail. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM

An inmate makes a phone call at the Gwinnett County Jail.

The Federal Communications Commission voted this week to slash the high prices that inmates pay to phone friends and family — fees that the state of Georgia has used to make money.

Georgia makes a 60 percent commission each time an inmate makes one of these calls, which can cost $4.85 for 15 minutes, according to rates posted by the state Department of Corrections and the group Prison Phone Justice. State contractor Global Tel*Link bills $2.70 for a single local call, while in-state, long-distance calls cost $2.00 plus 19 cents per minute.  If you pre-pay, it’s slightly cheaper, but users must pay a minimum of $50.00 to open an account and an additional $4.75 each time they add funds.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the Democrat who pushed to cap inmate phone charges, told The Hill that the high phone fees are part of a “predatory, scaled market regime.”

“None of us here would ever consider paying $500 a month for a voice only service where calls are routinely dropped for no reason,” she said.

A contract to provide inmate phone services to a corrections department can be worth millions of dollars, so telecoms promise governments high commissions to increase their chances of winning one. According to state Department of Administrative Services documents, in recent years, bidders offered the Georgia’s Department of Corrections commissions as high as 82 percent, and as much as $8.2 million in guaranteed income in a year.

If the FCC’s decision takes effect (and it may not, as telecoms have vowed to sue), it will cost no more than $1.65 for most 15-minute intrastate calls. Other fees have been capped, and commissions are discouraged.

You can read more details about the changes here: https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-takes-next-big-steps-reducing-inmate-calling-rates


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