Wisconsin and Other States Resist FCC Ruling on Correctional Facility Phone Rates

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently voted to implement a cap on rates and fees for prisoner communication with the outside world. Specifically, the video and telecommunication options while on-site visitation has always been free in many counties throughout the United States. Since this ruling with its effects meant to come online in March, there have been several states and even individual correctional facilities that have opposed this decision. One such state is Wisconsin which claims that capping the price of phone call fees to 11 cents per minute would not cover the overhead security costs or system implementation expenses that it is paying to put in telecommunication services for the prisoners in the first place.

The primary crux of the debate between the FCC, judicial courts, and state-funded correctional facilities comes down to money. Should the use of telecommunication services either via vendor or internally cost the state money, come to a break even arrangement for expenses, or be allowed to profit the state to re-invest the profits into what they see fit? It should be noted that the FCC ruling does not affect non-federal prisons or non-state prisons which leave privately run prisons off the hook. To put into perspective how these new FCC policies affect pricing currently a 15-minute intrastate phone call with no video function could cost about $3 while the new limit would lower that to as little as $1.65 almost a 50% reduction in cost.

Comal County To Begin Construction of New Jailhouse

Comal County, TX, has begun construction on a new county jail that will cost upwards of $76 million to complete, according to estimates. The jail will be able to hold 600 inmates and also include a 16-bed infirmary, a place for booking complete with temporary holding cells, and a visitation area for both families and attorneys.

The new jailhouse will replace the current one in use, completed in 1985. The current jailhouse can only fit 144 inmates, but was then expanded to fit 337 in 1999. However, overcrowding has become a problem for the county after a population explosion occurred in 2000, just one year after jailhouse expansions was completed. The daily inmate count at the current jail is around 320, and maintenance fees on the old jailhouse have reached around $200,000 annually. This does not include major projects, such as a complete overhaul of the plumbing that cost $600,000 in 2011, according to the county’s website.

The new jailhouse construction will be headed by HDR, which has offices all around the state of Texas. HDR has been involved in a lot of recent jailhouse projects around the state, including new sites in Tyler and El Paso. “We’re recognized as a national leader in justice design, with a robust justice practice based in Dallas, Texas. Our team has planned and designed justice facilities for 41 years, with over 200,000 beds in detention facilities, using a collaborative design process,” according to HDR Justice Director Mike Brenchley.


Norway Outsourcing Prisoners

Modern day companies are outsourcing their work to employees that reside in other countries to save money. This is a strategic move to reduce operating cost and increase company profits. Well, outsourcing has finally hit the prison industry too. Recent news reported that the prisons in Norway are overcrowded. Therefore, they are searching for an alternative method to house the prison population and reduce spending. They’ve decided to outsource their prison population to the Netherlands.

Profitable Prison Industry
The fact is that the prison industry has been very profitable for one small village in the Netherlands. Veenhuizen is a tiny village that is fully supported by the prison industry. Norway has been outsourcing their prisoners to the Netherlands for years, in an effort to reduce overcrowding in their prisons. The Netherland prisons are definitely an upgrade for the Norway prisoners that are introduced to libraries, fitness centers, recreation rooms, private baths, saunas, and many more amenities.

Prisoner Amenities
It’s really surprising all the amenities that the prisoners receive in the Netherlands prisons. Prisoners in America are complaining about brutal treatment and being treated like slaves, while prisoners in the Netherlands are treated almost like people on a holiday at a resort. Here is another fact that is not so surprising. The majority of prisoners in the Netherlands prisons have come there voluntarily. Prison facility officials state that in Norway and the Netherlands, officials want prisons to prepare offenders to re-enter the community. We don’t believe in adding to their punishment. They’ve already had heir freedom taken away, states one prison official. However, we do expect their full cooperation, they added. The officials further state that they think this type of prison program would not work in other countries. They are probably right. Cost for such a program in other countries, like the United States, would be astronomical.

FCC Rate Caps for Prison Phones Being Challenged

The Federal Communications Commission is attempting to cap the rates inmates and their families are charged for making phone calls. For years the rates charged have been astronomical compared to phone rates outside the prison. The main reason rates are so high for prison telephone service is, the fees and commissions the prisons charge the carriers. They typically give phone service contracts to the company that offers the highest commission or fee. This fee along with numerous others are passed on to the inmates and their families.

Existing rates have been as high as 89 cents per minute, before the fees. The inmate communication process has led to many illegal cell phones within the prison system. Although, there are currently rate limits being put into place, the FCC has not eliminated the kickbacks that service providers pay to get prison contracts. Some carriers claim that these commissions can range as high as 96 percent of the total amount collected. This practice continues to push overall phone rates higher. Many are calling for a ban on these charges, however, it seems that the most important aspect of the high rates is being ignored. The FCC’s current stance on the commissions is that they “strongly discourage them.”

There are currently all kinds of legal challenges to the proposed new rate limits. Many are claiming that the FCC has no right to regulate the rates carriers can charge for service. Service providers claim that the current rate caps will create financial instability in the industry and further hurt inmates and their families. Under current conditions, ,it appears that the rate argument will continue for some time.