How a Podcast Helped to Expose the American Prison Phone Racket

In October 2014, an incisive new podcast reminded American audiences that radio journalism is still one of the most compelling mediums for news reporting, investigation and social justice.
Serial is a podcast that was created as a companion to This American Life, the acclaimed public radio program that also ran for two seasons as a series on the Showtime cable television channel. According to PR News Serial has been widely acclaimed for bringing out issues that show deep dysfunction within American institutions in charge of delicate affairs; specifically overzealous criminal prosecutions and the strange approach to under-the-table diplomacy during wartime.

During the first season of Serial, each episode briefly introduced listeners to Global Tel-Link as the provider of prepaid calling services from prison telephones. With about 40 hours of recorded calls made from prison, it is safe to say that Global Tel-Link was instrumental to the production of Serial’s debut season.

Shortly after the final episode of Serial’s first season, a report published by financial news outlet Bloomberg estimated the cost of the prison phone calls used by the Serial production team. At 89 cents per minute and a connection fee of $3.95 per call, Global Tel-Link pocketed around $2,500, although the company did not respond to inquiries by Joshua Brustein of Bloomberg.

Although Serial did not make Global Tel-Link’s exorbitant calling rates a part of their investigation, the company has come under fire by various news reporting outlets and the Federal Communications Commission. As a result, per-minute rate caps went into effect; however according to, Global Tel-Link and other carriers that provided phone services to the imprisoned have retaliated with lawsuits and excessive service fees.

Companies such as Global Tel-Link keep the lucrative prison phone racket going in the United States; perhaps this industry and its players could be the focus of a future Serial production.