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Criminal Justice

With DFW-based Securus Making Headlines, the County Prepares to Rid Inmates of Excessive Call Fees

We’re past due for the change.
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A view of the Dallas County Jail and Lew Sterrett Justice Center from the Commerce Street bridge. Photo by Alex Macon.

A week ago, the Los Angeles Times published a deep dive into the background of a business move by Platinum Equity founder Tom Gores, who owns the Detroit Pistons. It’s a fascinating read, with a distinct tie to North Texas. The aforementioned move is Platinum’s acquisition of Carrollton-based Securus Technologies. Gores is getting hammered for it.

Criminal justice reform advocates know the name Securus all too well. It has become rich from charging inordinate amounts of money for telephone calls between inmates and the outside world, sometimes more than a dollar a minute. Even more, it has gotten jail systems across the country to buy into the scheme by offering a slice of the pie. This has been true in Dallas County, where just last year Securus funneled more than $2 million in easy money to the county coffers.

Gores claims he’s going to clean up the company, and tells the Times that despite the “headline risk” that came along with his purchase, Platinum’s role here is “change agent.” But activists have pressed hard since the $1.6 billion deal earlier this year. From the story:

“There is a difference between businesses that have a few ethical, questionable deviations and a business that at the root, at the core, is unethical, where there is not a redeemable piece of the business left when you fix it,” said Bianca Tylek, a Harvard Law School graduate and founder of Worth Rises, a New York nonprofit campaigning against Platinum and other private equity firms.

Dallas County may not hang around for Gores to make good on his promises. This summer, the county put out a request for proposals for phone services for the county jails. It’s important to note that Securus and other similar contractors will be able to submit a proposal, but County Judge Clay Jenkins says the county is aiming for a contract that won’t allow excessive funds to funnel in. Instead, the key factor in winning the bid is keeping fees down. “So that should lead to a much, much lower cost,” says Jenkins.

This is important for three reasons. One, 74 percent of people in County jails haven’t yet been tried, and may never be found guilty at all. Two, the phone bill isn’t hitting the inmate’s wallet. “You have mothers choosing between their medicine and speaking to their son or grandson,” says Jenkins. And three, studies show giving an inmate easier contact with the outside world reduces recidivism, driving down incarceration’s impact on society, financial or otherwise.

The current Securus contract expires at the end of the year.

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