The broke and defunct Michigan Department of Corrections is on a mission. A plan on how to supplement the new budget of a puny $1.96 billion dollars, nearly $71million less than the FY 2010-11 budget.
With the recent budget cuts, employee benefit cuts, facility closures, prisoner rates at over 45,000 and talks of privatizing food services, they solved the Department's biggest issue and security threat.
They are on a mission to tighten security measures and CIA level security is being put into place.
The highly dangerous perpetrators need to be aware that they are about to be ambushed.
Who are these highly dangerous perpetrators? Your random average cell phone. That's right. A cell phone. Amid all the other potentially deadly contraband one could find in a prison to do harm to another; shanks, drugs, etc., the cell phone is now being hunted with fierce intensity at the tune of 7 to 10 million dollars. The MDOC's broken budget solution is to electronically staff their facilities, cut costs and rid the prisons of the occasional pesky cell phone.
To provide a little history; after years of public outcry over telephone price gauging and kickbacks to the Department, it was written in law a few years back that the Department could not charge prisoners or their families more than what the going phone rate was in the streets. It was made law. In laymen's terms it reads: DOC, do not dip your fingers into the pockets of the families who are paying hundreds of dollars a month for phone calls that cost the department less than the paper clips.
Recently, The Michigan Department of Corrections signed a new phone contract with PCS Daily Dial. Daily Dial is a telephone vendor that provides a variety of phone services and high tech electronic monitoring for the prison systems. From what I have heard, the CSR Department is located in Mexico. The MDOC entered into an agreement with PCS and the new rates they pay to the vendor are $0.04 cents a minute. Sounded reasonable, until they forgot one detail, they failed to inform prisoners and their family of the change and new price rates until which time the date of the change occurred despite what the contract bound them to do. Notify, train, teach and guide. The increased price rates were not known until the moment the phone carrier switched and families were then forced to set up an account with PCS Daily Dial at the last minute. There was no memo, no poster or meeting provided to any prisoners prior to the change that would instruct them on how to place money on the phones, the minimum amount that could be placed, or the amount of the rate hike or when the switch would occur. It wasn’t until the switch-over occurred that it was discovered by the families that the rates were now almost double what they were the day before.
The old rates through Embarq were billed at $0.12 cents a minute or $1.80 per 15 minute call. Through CBS (Correctional Billing Services) it was 1.80 per 15 minutes plus a $0.12cent tax making each 15 minute call 1.92 for a prisoner. If a family member chose to send money directly to the facility to be placed in their prisoner account, the prisoner could submit a disbursement form for their phone account and be charged 1.80 for a 15 minute phone call.
In summation, the new contracted rate states that the MDOC pays PCS Daily Dial a total of $ 0.60cents for a 15 minute call, the prisoner/family would now be charged $3.00 for a 15 minute call.
This $3.00 rate was in effect for several days and then, on June 7th, 2011 an additional amount was unknowingly added to the $3.00 and was noticed by several families when they received a call giving them their balance. This “tax” was never mentioned at the time anyone set up their accounts with PCS Daily Dial nor was anyone ever notified of the additional tax amount until the angry family members called PCS and questioned the amount. The families were now informed that there is suddenly a 25% increase for taxes, though for almost 7 days, the rate was at the quoted $3.00 and is recently being charged at $3.20 for 15 minutes.
After conducting hours of lengthy research on behalf of thousands of scrambling loved ones, I verified my suspicions, that the additional money being collected is indeed being spent on high tech equipment that operates at the level the CIA would use to electronically and remotely, seek and destroy any cell phones smuggled into a facility. It was also discovered that cell phone smuggling is not a large issue in Michigan prisons so why the money is being spent on this seek and destroy mission at the expense of the minority is mind boggling. The MDOC and the entire state of Michigan certainly has many more pressing issues to be concerned with. In addition, no one has yet to explain the random tax increases that have also occurred at a questionable 25% tax rate, and to make matters more confusing there are talks of each call going up again, to 3.80 per call.
According to the 2010 Senate Bill 1153/Appropriations: 2010-2011 Department of Corrections Budget Sec. 219 states: 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.
The secret that only few were let in on was the “Special Equipment Costs.” The extra charges for electronic tracking measures to seek and remotely destroy any cellular phones within the facility were premeditated by the executive members of the MDOC, this plan was in the works back in 2008. Also included in the contract are the capabilities for prisoners to use the phone system to schedule or check on all call outs, medical appointment verifications, release dates etc. They have their own interfacility voicemail. I could be speculating, but wouldn't this mean lighter workloads for the prison staff? Or could it really be a justification of no longer needing a handful of staff and letting people go? Is the staff aware of this? Is this part of their budget cuts, to charge the families of prisoners for staffing and security features every time their loved one calls home?
There is a strange loophole in the Bill when they coined the term “Special Equipment Fees.” This could be interpreted a million different ways in the pockets of the Department. When their “Special Equipment” has reached the goal of 10 million bucks, what other special equipment will be “needed?”
Who will monitor this income and assure that it is used properly? Who will say, okay..enough, your equipment is paid for? I believe that if any other entity out there -- gas station, grocery store, internet service, etc. doubled their rates clearly to make a large profit, and without notice, there would be uproar and an investigation. Yet the families in this situation, have no one else to buy this service from -- the monopoly on prisoner phone calls in Michigan belongs to one company, and the families and prisoners who want to remain in contact with each other, have no choice but to pay or sever contact with their incarcerated child, parent, wife or husband. People are afraid to stand up for this issue due to the controversy of fighting for the rights of someone who has commited a crime. But this, this is more than it simply being about the so-called luxeries afforded to society's errant human locked away for making irrational decisions based on greed, power, addiction and lack of empathy for other human beings. This Department should scare all of us, more than most of its tenants. This should make us question all of our Department Leaders. They have cut education, rehabilitation, medical care, cut prison jobs from prisoners, cut prison jobs from staff, cut activities, cut substance abuse classes, closed facilities, cut classes mandated for parole, fail to review prisoner's eligible for parole to lessen overcrowding, and now they have a way to fund 10 million dollars for 007 equipment to stop a bored drug dealer from calling someone. Or a desperate husband trying to reach his wife and children. Am I the only one who smells what really stinks inside the walls? Who will hold our lawmakers accountable when they break a law by way of irrational decisions based on greed, power, addiction and lack of empathy for other human beings? Who is paying their bills? We are. And I am certain, it totals more than 4cents a minute.
Friends and families, psychologists, prison staff etc, know that frequent contact with an incarcerated loved one, is crucial to the prisoner's family, their children and the rehabilitation of the prisoner themselves. It is proven that frequent contact between families and prisoners helps in reducing hostility within the prisons and also reduces recidivism, and ultimimately lowers crime and the prison population. Making phone calls virtually impossible to afford does NO ONE any justice, especially the neighborhoods that these prisoners will one day return home to. It just breeds more anger, distrust, resentment and fear..the very things all crime is predicated upon.
This new rate increase is obviously price gouging at its worst, a practice of a coercive monopoly in which rates are priced far above the market rate that would otherwise prevail in a competitive environment. The implementation of this outrageous high tech equipment is being passed on to the prisoner's families who rely on communication and moral support via telephone. It is deplorable that a small portion of the families who are barely able to afford already infrequent phone contact, are picking up the tab for an entire department to fund security measures that should be included in annual budgets and the taxes we citizens are already doling out.
Searches, shakedowns, pat downs; etc should already be done frequently and routinely by paid, trained facility staff in order to reduce contraband. For those of you not familiar with the inside of a prison, I can assure you that the majority of contraband found in prisons is not a cell phone. I can also assure you that it is not only the prisoners and their suspected family or friends that provide contraband to the prisoners. In reality, the most popular type of contraband discovered are drugs that are sold within the facility, homemade booze, weapons used for protection in an overcrowded and understaffed facility or remnants of food stolen from food service.
If only 60 percent of the current prison population utilizes the phone, the few who fund those accounts are paying to research, purchase, install, and maintain an outlandish security feature for an entire Department at the estimated tune of 7 to 10 million dollars. Given the recent rate increase, that percentage of callers will most likely drop, leaving an even smaller population of families to pay for it all.
Approximately two weeks into the switchover, many attempts to seek clarification on contacting loved ones, led to nothing but frustration, vague responses and downright being ignored from PCS employees to MDOC employees to Gov Snyder. The information received has been vague or conflicting, many still aren't clear on the correct manner to fund these new accounts. One family cannot share an account anymore; you cannot fund your landline and your cell phone with one account. Each phone number must have a new account, set up with a minimum amount of money, conflicting info was given, some people were told a minimum of 25 dollars, some were told 50 dollars. In addition to whatever minimum amount, EACH account is charged a 3.95 set up fee everytime the account is replenished. The prisoner cannot just have 25 dollars placed in his prisoner account any longer and call different pre-approved numbers as needed. Each person on the prisoner's phone list must start their own account with a "25 or 50 dollar minimum." If a prisoner has 8 approved numbers they can call, there must be 8 different accounts set up and each account is charged a 3.95 fee each time they place money, at a minimum of 25 or 50 dollars. Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Wife and Friend cannot share and divide the costs anymore. Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Wife and Friend must have their own account to fund and every time they replenish the money, it will cost them 3.95. I'll let you do the math.
Though all involved believe in the importance of maintaining security measures within the facility, and support overworked facility staff, this recent development appears to be an act of desperation and exploitation by the head departments of the MDOC. There are so many unanswered questions, the MDOC has created an alarming amount of distrust by not being forthright in this situation and the children, parents, spouses and friends wonder who will step up to the plate and rectify this travesty? Who will defend the families while they get robbed by the system for supporting their loved ones through rehabilitation? How do they do what the MDOC and society ask; that they rebuild lives, families and neighborhoods if no one can afford contact? The Department has known this changeover was going to occur, the contract was signed months and months ago, they hid the details for a reason. They have lied, they have deceived, they have harmed communities, just as those who are accused who are sitting in each of their crowded facilities.
As an individual who offers support to an individual incarcerated in The MDOC, and as a citizen of the State of Michigan, I, along with many others have elevated this matter for further investigation into the MDOC and PCS Daily Dial to prove that this rate hike is within the current constraints of the aforementioned Appropriation Bill 1153. Requests have been made for a thorough explanation as to why the MDOC has recently put into action without due process of informing prisoners and families, the financial burden of an entire over the top, departmental security system. This extreme measure appears to violate the rights of the minority who pay to occasionally communicate with their children, parents, wives and other loved ones.
There is a large group of people now numbering in the hundreds, myself included, who are outraged. There are petitions being assembled, letters being written, and calls being made to those who head up MDOC. They are emailing state Senators, Representatives and Governor Snyder. The only help I got, and need, are the legal guidelines under which I can stage a protest. There are numerous family members stepping up to bat for themselves, their incarcerated loved one and the communities that will be affected when this all trickles down. It is their full intention to not only get this ridiculous price gouging eliminated, but also to expose the Michigan Department of Corrections for their unethical and opaque policies that are directly affecting the well-being and financial health of so many of The State of Michigan's already struggling citizens. Instead of working with the families and friends of the prisoners to provide clear communication and reasonable increases in rates, it appears as if the MDOC has decided to make a hefty profit off of tragedy and broken families who are trying to rebuild in the aftermath of errant choices.
The MDOC knows they have these families right where it counts, in the phone calls of those locked in the cells in the Michigan Department Of Corrections. And trust me, no one in the Department wants to pick up a cell phone and talk to anyone about it.