One of the most heated debates around the topic of the U.S. prison system has centered around the ability of prisons to charge the for-profit contractors doing business within their institutions a commission, often referred to as a legal kickback. This system is so pervasive that nearly all prison contractors in the United States engage in it at one time or another. And it is all perfectly sanctioned by laws, both local and federal.
Prisoners, inmate rights advocates and family members have long been particularly concerned with the often enormous kickbacks that are paid by prison communications firms. This is a major concern for the families because they are usually the ones who end up footing the bill for the calls that their incarcerated loved ones place to the outside of prison.
And the kickbacks involved can often be shockingly high. In the state of Arizona alone, Global Tel Link, one of the most prolific prison communication companies in the nation, is charged an average of 96 cents on the dollar for all revenues it makes in the state’s carceral facilities. This has translated into the company charging an average of more than $1.50 per minute for simple outgoing phone calls in that state. At such exorbitant rates, inmates staying in touch with their families on a regular basis becomes all but impossible.
However, GTL counters that such kickbacks provide a major source of revenues to the country’s cash-strapped prisons, enabling them to house an ever-expanding inmate population. In many cases, the prisons would be forced to literally let violent criminals loose, should that spigot of funding suddenly dry up.
The prisons themselves agree with this. So dire is the state of prison funding throughout the country that many wardens claim they would have to start immediately making cuts to critical services and staff if they were denied their phone commissions.