Dialing with Dollars: How County Jails Profit From Immigrant Detainees

Dialing with Dollars: How County Jails Profit From Immigrant Detainees

"[J]ails contracting with ICE are not compelled to follow the most recent version of these standards. Some facilities reviewed by The Nation do in fact follow the most recent edition of ICE’s detention standards. But other facilities, like Essex County Jail in New Jersey, which can hold up to 1,250 detainees on any given day, operate under ICE’s 2008 standards. These only mention “reasonably priced telephone services” and make a thin reference to telephone policies that will “foster legal access.” Still other facilities, like Plymouth County Detention Center where Milton was held for four months, function under the 2000 standards. These standards, which were created by Immigration Naturalization Services, an agency that was replaced by ICE in 2003, do not mention the cost of calls, stating only that detainees be permitted “to make direct calls to legal service providers.”

Immigrant rights advocates say these ill-defined, inconsistent and unenforceable standards allow jails to charge immigrant detainees rates that effectively disconnect them from family and legal access. In February, county jails and state prisons began implementing a recent Federal Communications Order that capped interstate debit and pre-paid calls at $0.21 per minute and $0.25 per minute for collect calls. But that left in-state calls, which fall under state regulation, untouched.

The exclusive contracts county jails hold with telephone companies like Securus, Global Tel*Link and ICSolutions continue to charge high rates. At Santa Ana City Jail in California, for example, a long-distance, 15-minute in-state phone call can cost more than $13. The jail charges 69 cents a minute for in-state calls and a $3.30 connection fee. The city collects a 54 percent commission on the total profits from the calls. The jail in Yuba County, also in California, has a rate structure that is based on the distance to the receiver and time of day. A long distance, 15-minute in-state phone call can cost more than $12 for a detainee. The county collects a 45 percent commission. Santa Ana made more than $237,000 in commission on calls last year; Yuba County more than $109,000." - Leticia Miranda, The Nation, May 15, 2014.