Michigan DOC Using Pay Phone Revenue For Jammers

prison pay phones 300x212 Michigan DOC Using Pay Phone Revenue For JammersThe Michigan DOC is changing prison pay phone vendors and increasing the price of a prison phone call. Some of the increased revenue generated by the new phone rates will be used to install cell phone jammers to thwart smuggled contraband cell phones.

The corrections department had contracted with Kansas-based EMBARQ. That contract expired in 2009 but the company agreed to continue service until the department found a new vendor, Cordell said. EMBARQ offered the department the fifth cheapest phone rate for prisons in the country. The new contract with PCS gives Michigan prisoners the 11th cheapest phone rate in the country.

The contract is a zero-dollar contract. The corrections department contracts with PCS for the service and the users pay for it. It does not generate a profit for the department, Cordell said.

The new rate is still much cheaper than collect calls placed outside of the prison system. According to rate information on AT&T’s website, collect calls using 800-CALL-ATT cost $1.49 per minute with a $5.99 to $8.50 service charge per call. It costs $3.99 per minute and a $9.99 connection fee to make a call using 800-COLLECT, according to rates on their website.

The rate increase will go toward providing more phones in prisons and upgrading existing technology. About 29 percent of the per minute rate goes into a fund to equip the prison to detect and jam cell phones within facilities, Cordell said.

Across the country, inmates using smuggled cell phones is becoming a growing problem. It has not gotten out of hand in Michigan, Cordell said, with about eight to 10 cell phones confiscated each year. Michigan law makes it a felony to bring in a cell phone as contraband. But the trend has prison officials concerned. They search for cell phones everyday, and the new technology will allow prisons to jam cell phone signals.

“They are a huge security issue — especially a smart phone. You can run your criminal empire. You can run and organize escapes. You can put hits out on people,” Cordell said. “We take them very, very seriously.”

The new phone system will be phased into Michigan’s prisons throughout the month.

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One thought on “Michigan DOC Using Pay Phone Revenue For Jammers

  1. Valerie

    ANALYSIS OF NEW PHONE SYSTEM FOR
    MICHIGAN DEPATMENT OF CORRECTIONS
    The Michigan Department of Corrections has entered into a new telephone contract with PCS. Rates are
    nearly doubling as is evident from the chart below.
    EMBARQ Per
    Minute Rates
    PCS Per
    Minute Rates
    Increase
    Intrastate Collect $0.12 $0.20 67%
    Interstate Collect $0.15 $0.23 64%
    Intrastate Debit $0.10 $0.18 80%
    Interstate Debit $0.12 $0.21 75%
    The per-minute base rates on the new contract are actually quite low. Most of the increase is attributable
    to charges for the creation of a Special Equipment Fund. The chart below shows the breakdown of the
    per-minute rates under the new contract and the portion of the rate that is attributable to the new fund.
    Base Rate
    Per
    Minute
    Key Word
    Search Per
    Minute
    Special
    Equipment
    Fund Per
    Minute
    Total
    Per
    Minute
    Rate
    Special
    Equipment
    Portion of
    Base Rate
    Intrastate Collect $0.0393 $0.0075 $0.1532 $0.20 76.6%
    Interstate Collect $0.0393 $0.0075 $0.1832 $0.23 79.7%
    Intrastate Debit $0.0343 $0.0075 $0.1382 $0.18 76.8%
    Interstate Debit $0.0343 $0.0075 $0.1682 $0.21 80.0%
    Collecting funds for special equipment was authorized by the legislature in the following language that
    is part of the MDOC budget bill:
    “Any contract for prisoner telephone services entered into after the effective date of this act shall include
    a condition that fee schedules for prisoner telephone calls, including rates and any surcharges other than
    those necessary to meet special equipment costs, be the same as fee schedules for calls placed from
    outside of correctional facilities.”
    We have been told by the MDOC that the fund will be used for a system that will detect contraband cell
    phones in the system. The department plans to take some time to determine what sort of system is
    needed. They expect the system to be installed in approximately 3 years using the $21-$30 million that
    will have accumulated in the Special Equipment Fund during the 3 years.
    We are concerned about several aspects of this proposal.
    1. It is not clear that Michigan has a serious problem with contraband cell phone usage. While
    there have been cases of contraband cell phones, no one in the state has ever been charged with
    committing a crime using a cell phone.
    2. There are inexpensive methods of detecting cell phones in the system, using portable devices or
    battery-sniffing dogs. Obviously, the MDOC is not considering such an option. The more
    sophisticated systems are reported to be very expensive and not reliable. For example, we have
    been told by the Colorado Department of Corrections that they “are not currently using any cell
    phone detection systems, (because such systems) are very expensive and the technology
    continues to evolve.”
    3. There is no commitment from the MDOC to cease collecting these funds if and when a cell
    phone detection system is installed.
    4. The per-minute special equipment fund charges are expected to generate revenue of $10 to $14
    million per year. PCS will receive 30% of those funds or $3-$4 million per year! There is
    nothing in the contract to justify giving PCS this portion of the revenue.
    5. Nearly every company that bid on the contract offered some form of cell phone detection
    services at a lower cost than is incorporated into this contract. There is no way for us to know
    the precise configuration of each detection proposal, but, as we pointed out earlier, it is unclear
    how much protection the MDOC needs. The chart below summarizes per-minute rates in the
    original bids that would have included a cell phone detection component:
    EMBARQ GTL * PCS Unisys Securus
    Collect
    Intrastate $0.10 $035 – $0.37 $0.69 $0.063 $0.054
    Interstate $0.12 $035 – $0.37 $0.69 $0.063 $0.054
    Debit
    Intrastate $0.09 $035 – $0.37 $0.59 $0.053 $0.054
    Interstate $0.11 $035 – $0.37 $0.59 $0.053 $0.054
    *Cell phone detection in one vs. two facilities.
    Adding to our distrust of this process is the following statement in the Executive Summary of PCS’s
    Telephone Pricing Clarification: “Understanding that budgets are shrinking for all State agencies, as part
    of our Best and Final Offer, PCS is also willing to work with the MDOC to create a Special Equipment
    Fund to help bridge any potential budget shortfalls. The amount of this fund can be set at the discretion
    of the MDOC. “
    We don’t know if this contract represents an expensive solution looking for a problem or a commission
    disguised as a “special fund,” or a way to help the state balance its budget. Whatever it is, we believe
    these rates are indefensible.
    Please consider contacting your state representative, state senator, and the governor to ask that the
    MDOC pursue a less expensive solution to the “problem” of contraband cell phones. You may also
    want to write a letter to the editor. By eliminating the special fund, we can enjoy per-minute rates
    $0.0418 – $0.0468.
    This analysis is based upon research conducted by MI-CURE and CAPPS.

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