Global Tel-Link Imposes High Costs for Incarcerated and Their Families

To many people, a phone-call to a friend or loved one is a banal act. As cell-phone and wireless technology has improved, the idea of being “always-connected” has spawned a backlash. But for the country’s incarcerated people and their families, simply talking to each other can be fraught with unnecessary difficulties.

Global Tel-Link Corporation, or GTL, is one of the country’s largest businesses of its kind. Its primary business is to provide phone services to inmates and their families. They provide an invaluable service by allowing hundreds of thousands of those isolated in jails and prisons across the country to maintain crucial ties to their families, ties that have been shown to reduce the likelihood of recidivism. However, providing such a service should by no means excuse GTL of engaging in price gouging and gross profiteering, which target some of society’s least esteemed and poorest.

In many states according to the Consumer Affairs‘ report, GTL takes advantage of highly irrational bidding rules. In what could be described as reverse bidding, the bidder that proposes to charge the highest allowable rate wins the contract and is thus granted a monopoly. That state or local detention center will then receive a “kickback”, or concession, totaling by some estimates up to $150 million a year nationwide. GTL, as of 2013, was making over $500 million a year by charging exorbitant rates to people, often poor, and who have no other choice.

Amid a growing public outcry from ACLU and similar organizations, a number of states have banned these “kickbacks” by corporations such as Global Tel Link, and prison phone-rates have therefore been substantially reduced in those states. So it is with small steps that a society can change unfair and counterproductive practices in its institutions.

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