One of the most heated controversies involving the prison communication system is the fact that many of the nation’s largest inmate communications providers are paying large commissions to the institutions in which they operate. These commissions, which are almost universally paid by inmate communications companies, have been described as legal kickbacks, a way for the prisons themselves to decide who has the ultimate privilege of providing the inmates with communication services based on the company’s ability to pay the largest fee to the prisons where they are allowed to operate.
Although this system has received a great deal of serious criticism, it continues throughout the United States. This is largely due to the fact that U.S. prisons have been perennially underfunded since the beginning of the modern prison system. Especially throughout the South, prisons have long been encouraged to be completely self-sufficient, providing their own food and even their own means of generating revenues through such programs as inmate-run shops and leasing convict labor.
This tradition has now been extended to inmate calling systems, which are largely expected to maintain complete self-sufficiency in terms of funding but also to provide the nation’s prisons with enough cash to make up for budgetary shortfalls. This is the origin of the commission system that is so often seen today.
The complaints arise where these commissions end up being passed on to the inmates in the form of exorbitant phone rates. However, even where the companies are paying large commissions back to the institutions in which they operate, companies like Securus Technologies are able to maintain a relatively low rates for the inmates. For example, in the state of Louisiana, Securus has been able to maintain an average outgoing phone rate to inmates of just $1.50 per minute. This is despite the fact that the company pays an average of 75 percent in commissions to the institutions in which it does business.