Lawsuit Alleges Florida Corrections Department Chose Perks Over Lower Phone Rates for Incarcerated PeopleFebruary 11, 2019

Prison phone provider Securus Technologies has filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections in which it claims the agency used the procurement process for a new phone contract to obtain a "wish list of goodies" instead of making calling rates affordable incarcerated people and their loved ones, the Florida Times-Union reports.

The paper reports that Securus, the longtime phone provider for Florida's prisons, lost out on the new contract to competitor Global Tel Link, which offered more "value-added" perks, including inmate tracking services, contraband detection motion-sensing cameras, visitation management, staff radios, up to 1250 Dell computers, up to 750 iPhones, and a virtual gun range for staff training.

Securus alleged that the department obtained these perks "on the backs of some of Florida's most vulnerable citizens: the state's inmates and their families." The suit claims that the new phone contract led to a $3.5 million annual cost increase for incarcerated people and their loved ones.

Securus and Global Tel Link now control most of the correctional phone market, according to a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative. These private phone companies have long charged exorbitant rates to families of incarcerated people for talking to their loved ones in prison, and they have fought hard against FCC regulations that would limit rates and eliminate extra fees for prison phone calls. 

Rates are set by contracts between these companies and state and local governments, who often receive "commissions" or kickbacks for each jail or prison. Securus's lawsuit claims that the Florida DOC's invitation to negotiate for the new phone contract "explicitly prohibited" the vendor to remit a portion of the revenue from the contract back to the agency as a "commission."

Without having to pay commissions, the suit says, "vendors can provide lower inmate telephone call rates to inmates' families and friends. Keeping call rates lower promotes inmates' contact with family and friends, increasing eventual re-unification and re-entry and reducing recidivism."

But instead of negotiating for lower rates, the department instead asked vendors to compete over providing "value-added" goods and services that were "wholly unrelated" to the procurement process.

The lawsuit argues that the Department violated the Florida Constitution because it exercised budgeting and appropriation powers that are exclusively granted to the legislature when it used the procurement process to obtain goods and services that were not allocated by the legislature.